Monday, October 31, 2011

the clown on the plane

by peter greene

illustrations by rhoda penmarq

His Only Friend

Zach dreamed that he asked Vida, this time with love and devotion: “Will you marry me?”

“So you can keep your job?”

(Click here for the first episode; here for the previous one.)

He woke damp with guilt and yet relieved that by now Rosalind had told Beth all about Vida’s pregnancy.  And no matter how angry and betrayed Beth felt, she would never blame Rosalind. It was Zach who had thrust the knife in her back.

Despite her stupidity, Beth had always harbored the truth: Zach was so wrong that “why and when” scarcely mattered.

While showering he swore he would telephone her within five minutes.  He couldn’t hide forever.  Although… allowing a few days to pass seemed reasonable. Better to let the fire die down before dousing it with gasoline.  Besides, Beth knew. The damage was done. 

Perhaps thinking he shouldn’t “hide” from Beth was inaccurate. Zach Severins didn’t hide, for Christ’s sake! But wasn’t it best if he never spoke directly to her again?

Sitting in ragged underpants, he watched the interaction as if attending a bad play.
Guess what, Mom. 
Dad’s lover, Vida, is expecting twin girls any minute now.

The twins were insult enough, but Beth would harangue him forever for tossing Rosalind into the maelstrom. His daughter’s eagerness, Beth would say, was age-appropriate—not a random attitude for Zach’s convenience.

Shuddering, he opened his nightstand drawer and downed a quaff of whisky. But the play continued: Beth chats about Rosalind’s volleyball games next week, maintaining her impeccable niceness until Rosalind is asleep. Valiant but god-awful Beth leaves a note for both Matt and Rosalind: If you need me, I’m at Wren’s house.

After he dressed, Zach checked his voicemail. No calls. He had expected a response from Luke at Dartmouth at the very least. But after twenty years of advising these assholes? Nothing: Not one Institute member, not one renowned thinker whose awards and laudations stemmed straight from Zach’s advocacy, had responded.

How ironic that his only ally was newly gay and proud Duncan. And yet how grateful he was for their standing brunch date. Wearing a new plaid cashmere scarf against the increasing cold, Zach hurried to Bistro Ten 18 on Amsterdam Avenue.

Seated at a window table, Duncan grinned and half-stood, raising a Bloody Mary garnished with a twelve-inch celery stalk.

Zach ordered a double Bloody Mary, “No celery, please,” and revealed that Beth had just learned of Vida’s pregnancy, without saying how. Duncan wanted details—not about any confrontation: He wanted to talk about gestation and whether Vida would attempt vaginal delivery or opt for a C-section.

 “Giving birth to two babies at once!”  He shook his head, adorned with recently brightened and cleverly tousled hair. “Hard to fathom.”

“Duncan, I’m hoping to eat.” He ordered a skirt steak, three fried eggs, extra home fries, and another Bloody Mary.

Duncan sipped his drink from a tiny green straw.

“I suppose you’ve heard Dorothy’s strong-arming me out. I have no idea where this is coming from but after emphasizing that my ordinary misconduct was enough to stuff me in some backwater U., she alluded to rumors of ‘domestic abuse.’”

 “What did you say?”

“I let her know the implication was slanderous and actionable.”


“And she has a position ready and waiting for me in Nebraska.”

 “Omaha or Lincoln?”

“What the fuck difference does it make?”

Duncan’s superb posture somehow improved a millimeter. “Lincoln has an outstanding Public Policy program. And Omaha? A huge Poli-sci department.”

“No shit.”

Duncan prattled a while about the fantastic opportunities at both campuses until Zach said, “Unless you want to come with me, shut up.”

“Maybe in time you’ll listen to me, Zach. Because I know professors in both quite lovely cities. If you were serious about me coming with you, my family in Westchester and the community at St. John the Divine are my only reasons not to.”

“Either you’re humoring me or you really would mosey off to Nebraska, just us two. One is as disturbing as the other. No offense.”

Tipping a coy shoulder toward his friend, Duncan breathed: “None taken.”

What a fucker! But Zach had to admit the gay guy forced a sense of humor on him—never his claim to fame. And goddamnit if Duncan didn’t live a helluva lot closer to the Scout Law than Zach ever had.  He was exceptionally “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, and reverent.” However, Duncan was not “obedient,” nor anywhere close to what the movement intended by “clean.” Did homosexuals call it intercourse? Certainly, Robert Baden-Powell, who founded the Boy Scouts in 1907, had never imagined such goings-on. Instantly upon grasping this notion, though, Zach wasn’t so sure. Still and all, Duncan, because of his homosexuality, was the Anti-Eagle Scout.

Outside the restaurant, he laid his hand slightly low on Zach’s back—just slightly. A gesture of kindness, no more, but Zach jumped away and Duncan pretended not to notice. As usual, the men walked, not quite side by side, to Riverside Park.

(click here for the next episode)

Sunday, October 30, 2011


by nooshin azadi

illustration by rhoda penmarq


we were still sleeping
in the old house 
where no windows had ever been opened
i woke up
and called us all by our real names
this time we didn't pretend we were asleep
we simply got up
i found myself confident enough
to caress our transparent bodies
suddenly the house trembled
and windows were all shattered

none of us ran for shelter from the broken glass
i felt wings flapping in my chest


Friday, October 28, 2011

the suicide ray

by peter greene

illustrations by rhoda penmarq

the suicide ray

the chinese have perfected it, and the russians
and us, and anyone else
with access to the files and a will to
want this way: whole cities, regular rates of
self-demise: it's defense-related, you see it in their eyes

when the suicide rays are getting to them
at first more gentlemen
than ladies but soon everyone
will be talking about it to their doctor and soon
we'll all be dead, save for the
lone operator of the installation
that, in each case
is causin g this

©Peter Greene 2011.


by nooshin azadi

illustration by rhoda penmarq


they were still watching
the river
that flowed in two directions
i stood by them
and put the mirror in front of them
this time they didn't close their eyes
they simply started to look
i found myself confident enough
to caress their coarse bark
suddenly the river dried up
and scorching winds began to blow

none of us ran for shelter from the heat
i felt wings flapping in my head


Thursday, October 27, 2011

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 99: PBR

Our author Larry Winchester, that master of montage, now returns the harsh truth of his camera’s eye to Dick, Daphne and Harvey, last seen getting ready to board a flying saucer in a space station somewhere between the earth and the moon. Our intrepid trio are accompanied by Daphne’s father the legendary Mac MacNamara (recently revealed to be of alien provenance), his cheerful mechanic Buddy Kelly, and the unwilling Frank and Brad…

(A glancing acquaintance with our previous episode might be helpful; or go here to see where the whole sad story began.)

The yard-wide TV monitor showed (with excellent color resolution) Paco and Derek staring at Paco’s little black-and-white TV, the small screen of which showed Mr. MacNamara, with his trench coat and hat removed, sitting in a swivel chair at a console, turning dials and flicking switches, observing readings in various little windows while keeping an eye on the big screens above, including the one showing the almost immobile Paco and Derek.

Dick Ridpath and Buddy Kelly sat to the right and left of Mac, and Buddy busily turned and flicked and pressed his own dials and switches and buttons.

This “bridge” was a circular room with television screens running all around the bulkheads, just as in the earlier flying saucer, but this room was larger, cleaner, more polished, newer.

One TV screen showed the space station receding, and seeming to be sailing directly toward the large cratered ball of the Moon.

Another screen showed the Earth, now drawing closer, and taking up more and more of the screen with its clouds and blues and greens and rich browns and its problematic race of human beings.

Other monitors showed, in slow motion:

Hope tying Moloch’s hands behind his back with his old school scarf as Enid covers him with her .45, while all around them in a frustrated circle the Motorpsychos gun their engines and brandish various firearms.

Doc Goldwasser and Big Jake driving in Jake’s shiny new red ‘69 Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible with a pair of fuzzy dice swinging from the rearview mirror.

Cleb and Attie Parsons, bicycling through the desert.*

And Derek and Paco, watching themselves being watched on Paco’s little TV.

Everything about this saucer was more comfortable than the other one our heroes had been in. The bulkheads were painted a soft blue, the floors were of polished parquet, and the swivel armchairs that circled the room were cushioned in plush purple velvet.

Frank and Brad sat grimly a few seats to the right of Dick, Frank smoking a cigarette and Brad a cigar, tapping their ashes into one of the built-in chrome ashtrays that were spaced every few feet on the mahogany ledge of the console running around the room.

Daphne, her gold lamé purse hanging from her shoulder by its spun-gold strap, stood at a neat little refreshments nook, mixing Gordon’s martinis. A sliding door revealed a cabinet filled with liquor and other sundries above a small sink, a microwave, and a stainless steel refrigerator. In an indented nook a large Mr. Coffee exuded a thin steady stream of Maxwell House into a steaming glass pot.

Harvey bowed down, peering into the refrigerator, which was well-stocked with cans and bottles of beer as well as a platter piled high with sandwiches individually wrapped in wax paper.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a drink, Papa?” asked Daphne.

“Not yet, sweety,” said Mac, continuing intently to twiddle, punch and flick. “Gotta keep my wits about me, and to be honest, I’m just a wee bit space-lagged as we call it. I will take a cup of that joe when it’s ready though.”

“Mr., uh, Mr. --” Harvey hesitated.

“It’s MacNamara, Harvey,” said Daphne.

“Mr. MacNamara,” said Harvey, “’s it okay I have one of these beers?”

“Help yourself, son,” said Mac. “I think there’s some Heineken, Beck’s --”

PBR’s okay with me, sir, thank you.”

“Good,” said Mac. “Well, Dick, it looks like we still might have time to get your two friends out of their little jam down there. Fortunately we have what's known as a relative time differential between the earth’s dimension and the one we’re in now --”

“Fishtown,” said Daphne, filling two martini glasses from a glass pitcher, and holding back the ice cubes with a long metal spoon.

“That’s right, sweetheart. Events on the earth happen at about one-twentieth the speed of this dimension, thus the slow-motion on the views of the earth you see on the screens here.”

He indicated the one screen showing Enid shoving Moloch slowly toward her truck.

Daphne came over with two martinis and handed one to Dick.

“Ah. For this relief much thanks,” said Dick.

“Cheers, big ears,” said Daphne.

Dick and Daphne clinked glasses and took their first sips.

“Mmm, wonderful,” said Daphne. “Buddy, would you like just a small one?”

“No, thanks, miss,” said Buddy. “I been on the wagon since 1944.”

“Well, that’s certainly impressive,” said Daphne.

“So what are we,” said Frank, “chopped liver?”

“Oh, I’ll get you a drink, Frank,” said Daphne. “Although I don’t know why I should -- the way you’ve been treating the entire human race like your little play-toys.”

“Hey,” said Frank, “remember, you’re only half human yourself, and your old man there is one hundred percent one of us --”

“Don’t you talk about my father,” said Daphne. “I’ll come right over there and slap your face and don’t think I won’t.”

“It’s all right, sweety,” said Mac, still working his dials and switches.

Brad leaned over toward Frank and whispered through his teeth: “Frank, put a lid on it.”

“Fuck you, traitor,” said Frank, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear quite clearly. “Yo, Mac, tell your daughter here. Fill her in. Tell her how you were in on the whole World War II caper from the start. Tell her how it was your idea to get the Japs allied with Hitler. You thought it’d be more -- how’d you put it -- ‘more fun’ I think was the phrase you used. Wasn’t it you who said World War I was just a ‘warm-up act’? That now things were gonna get really wild? Tell her about it, Mac. You wanted some kicks, didn’t ya? Who gave a fuck if thirty million earthlings bit the big one? You wanted to play soldier, secret agent, big shot, tough guy, lover boy. Go on, tell her, Mac.”

“How’s that java, sweety?” Mac asked Daphne.

“I’ll get you a cup,” she said. “Black, right? Buddy, would you like a cup?”

“Four lumps and lots of cream, miss,” said Buddy.

“Righto,” said Daphne. She put her drink down on the ledge of the console near Dick and headed back to the refreshment nook. Harvey leaned against a counter near the refrigerator, drinking from a can of Pabst. His revolver was shoved into his waistband.

“I like my martinis bone dry, Mrs. Ridpath,” said Frank. “Icy cold and two olives.”

“Hmmpf!” was Daphne’s reply.

“Cool it, Frank, please,” said Brad.

“Better make Brad a double,” said Frank. “He’s nervous.”
“Frank,” said Harvey, “I ain’t gonna tell you again. Shut the fuck up.”

“Yeah,” said Frank. “Big man, with a roscoe stuck in your belt.”

Harvey drew his revolver from his belt and laid it down on the nearby ledge.

“Ain’t got no gun in my belt now, Frank. You wanta try me?”

Frank got up from his chair.

“Frank, sit the fuck down,” said Brad.

“Shut up, Brad. Hey, kid -- you wanta tangle? Watch this. Boom.”

Frank metamorphosed instantly into Bull Thorndyke in all his brutish glory -- six feet four inches and three hundred and two pounds of reeking raw nastiness, dressed in greasy denim overalls, a tattered ten-gallon hat, brownish-grey long-johns and shit-stained cowboy boots with duct tape wrapped around the toes.**

“Boom,” he said. “How you like this, soldier boy?”

“Jesus,” said Harvey.

“Oh my God,” said Daphne. She had brought out two cups with saucers and she stood there holding the coffee pot.

“C’mon, soldier boy,” said Bull. “Let me introduce your face to your asshole, motherfucker.”

“Frank,” said Brad.

“Shut your fuckin’ mouth, Brad. I’ll deal with you later.”

“Hey, Frank --” said Mr. MacNamara.

“What you want?” said Bull.

Mr. MacNamara pulled a Colt Python snubnose out of a belt holster on his left hip, pointed the gun at Bull and cocked the hammer.

“I want you to cut the shit,” said Mac. “Now change back to Frank and sit the fuck down or you’re gonna wind up as dead as the real Bull Thorndyke did.”

Bull hesitated a moment, then metamorphosed back into Frank.

“You guys got no sense of humor,” he said. “Look, Harve, no hard feelings, okay? Hey, Mac, okay if I make me and Brad a coupla libations of the alcoholic variety? I mean, no reflection on the service, but I’m gettin’ thirsty here --”

Mac lowered the hammer on his pistol, put it back into its holster, and turned back to his dials and switches.

“I don’t give a fuck what you do, Frank; just stay out of my way and keep your trap shut.”

“Thanks,” said Frank. “I love you too.”

Brad just shook his head.

Dick sipped his martini. He had swiveled his chair all the way around, and he kept his eye on Frank.

Frank waited while Daphne filled the two cups with coffee. Harvey picked up his pistol and shoved it back into his waistband. Daphne added cream and sugar cubes to one cup, stirred it, and then brought the thick diner-style cups and saucers over to Mac and Buddy.

Harvey stepped back a bit as Frank came over to the mini-bar.

“You people are just fucked up, man,” said Harvey.

“Funny talk coming from an earthling,” said Frank, opening the freezer compartment of the fridge and taking out an ice tray. “And maybe you should be careful what you say. After all, you’re talking about Mrs. Ridpath’s papa here.”

Daphne handed the cups and saucers to her father and to Buddy.

“Thank you, honey,” said Mr. MacNamara.

“You’re welcome, Papa.”

“Thanks, miss,” said Buddy.

“You’re welcome, Buddy. Enough cream?”

Buddy took a luxurious sip.

“Perfecto,” he said.

“Good,” said Daphne. She picked up her own drink. “Oh, and by the way, Frank,” she called across the room, “my father is nothing like you.”

“Oh, sure, sure,” said Frank. Having dumped a trayful of ice cubes into the pitcher, he poured about half a bottle of gin into it.

“Yes,” said Daphne. “Sure.”

Frank didn’t bother adding vermouth. He brought two martini glasses down from the cabinet, and, after shaking the pitcher around a bit in his hand, he filled the glasses, using his left index finger as a strainer. He put the pitcher down, licked his gin-soaked finger, then picked up the olive jar.

Daphne touched her father gently on the shoulder.

“Papa --” she said.

“Sweetheart,” he said. Holding his coffee cup in his left hand, he was still intently pressing buttons with his right hand, checking gauges, gently adjusting dials.

Dick sipped his martini, silent, watchful.

Mr. MacNamara finally took his first drink of coffee, nodded his head in approval, took another good drink, then laid the cup and saucer on the console ledge.

“Okay, Buddy,” said he said, “keep her steady as she goes, and give me a two-minute warning before we engage the woofer.”

“Yes, sir, Major,” said Buddy.

Mac swiveled around in his chair, took out his cigarettes, offered the pack to Dick and to Daphne, who both declined. He shook one out for himself. He took out his lighter, lit himself up, and looked at Daphne, sipping her drink as if contemplatively.

“I guess I owe you some sort of explanation, Bubbles,” he said.

*Click here to revisit Cleb and Attie's last appearance, which was only, like, a year-and-a-half ago.

**Bull Thorndyke's one and only previous appearance in our series was way back in Episode One.

(Continued here, and until the bitter end.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


by nooshin azadi

illustration by rhoda penmarq


she was still walking
on the path
that never ended
i caught up with her
and put the grail in front of her
this time she didn't ask any questions
she simply started to drink
i found myself confident enough
to caress her shiny scales
suddenly the road coiled up
and it started to hail

neither of us ran for shelter from the storm
i felt wings flapping behind my neck


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Good Daughter

They stopped grappling the moment they heard their son at the front door.

“This is weird,” Matt was telling his friend, “She never locks anything.”

(Click here for the first episode; here for the previous one.)

For weeks, Beth and Zach had shamefully pandered to a furious, bestial lust. Matt and his fellow Eagle Scout had finished their finals before noon. Ready to graduate from high school in a month, they pounded on the door—their stuff was in there!

Eventually, they gave up and Zach sneaked away until Beth yelled after him, “Never again!”

“Damn it, Beth—obviously!”

On Sunday, he and Matt sat just above third base while the Yankees lost miserably to the Red Sox. Yet Matt hardly noticed, being too busy complimenting his mother as often as he dared. She had lost weight. She made the best cupcakes. “And, Dad, don’t you think Mom’s understanding? She hardly ever gets mad.”

“Yes,” he said. “Your mother’s very understanding.”

The next morning the dean’s secretary phoned: “Dorothy wants to meet with you as soon as possible.”

“How about…now?”

“I’ll check.” Two seconds later, the secretary said, “Give her five minutes.”

Zach buttoned his blazer and swigged mouthwash from a liter-size bottle. He spat blue fluid into the bushes and hurried over to the towering SIPA building.  A few months ago, he would have considered every strategy before this meeting. Now he just wanted it over. The Institute had cast him into the darkness and Columbia University was about to send him packing.

Dorothy said she was sorry to report that the department had voted his misconduct egregious and had ruled he should find a tenured position elsewhere. “You may petition,” she said, “but—”

“No,” Zach said. “Just tell me how long I’ve got before I absolutely have to be out.”

Instead of answering that, she said, “As it turns out, you’re in luck, Zach. I can recommend you to the University of Nebraska. Their PoliSci School wants a proven leader with influence.”

Knowing better than to balk, he said, “Thank you, Dorothy. It might be very exciting.”

“I’m sure you’ll inspire your students there as you have here,” she said.

“I’m grateful you see it that way, Dorothy. My cousin lives in Nebraska.”

They shook hands, he thanked her again, and she said, “You’ll find it  rewarding, Zach.” Then she closed the door to her stately, high-ceilinged office with bay windows and gleaming dark wood.

 Inside his own squat, dusty office, Zach phoned Luke Graham from Dartmouth and Clay Cummins from Georgetown, who both were unavailable.  His list of colleagues, including long shots, numbered eighteen. He phoned each of them, leaving his once-respected name, numbers, and email addresses with assistants or voicemail. On Wednesday, he called again and repeated his message. By Friday, nobody had returned his calls. But they all knew Zach wouldn’t quit until they told him, “No.”

Saturday evening he waited at Track 37 inside Grand Central and soon spotted his daughter Rosalind among the throng. The girl who dressed like a punk last year had come to prefer sleek little dresses.

She waved to him. They had reservations at The Four Seasons because she had been asking for weeks and, in Zach’s opinion, Rosalind deserved a treat. After flunking eighth grade, she had aced an extra-heavy course load by special arrangement two years running. When she made the top honor roll again this semester, he offered to take her to any restaurant she wanted.

 So what if her mother bitched that she had never been to The Four Seasons.

“Confidentially, Rosalind, your mother never asked.” 

With no makeup, long shiny blond hair, and her newfound prettiness, Rosalind dazzled her father, and knew it. They swung through the MetLife building and along Park Avenue where they linked arms and traded glances like conspirators.

The maître d’ showed them to a table by the ethereal white marble pool. A waiter asked if they wanted to start with drinks.  Rosalind glanced at her father. They might serve her a daiquiri here: she couldn’t imagine being carded in such a gorgeous place.  Zach frowned at her unspoken request, but winked, “For me a dram of Glenfiddich and for the young lady…”

“A daiquiri, please.”

When the waiter spoke, she almost panicked. But the man, who knew how and when to break the rules, asked what kind of daiquiri? 

“Do you serve them frozen?”

They did.

Rosalind had never tasted one before and said it was delicious. Zach warned her, “It’s not a Slushie.” She pouted and pushed it aside. “Whatever a ‘Slushie’ is,” he grinned and she sat up straighter.

“So Daddy, do you still see the lady in Washington?”

“I haven’t for a while. But your mother and I will both be glad when the divorce is final.”

“Do you love the lady in Washington?”

“You’re interested in love and how it works, aren’t you?”

 “What do you expect?” his daughter said. “You’re so mysterious about her.”

“Romantic love works completely differently than the love between parents and children,” Zach said. “Decent parents, and even some indecent ones, love their children forever.”

Her glass almost empty now, she twirled the stem. “But you haven’t said whether you’re in love.”

“Her name is Vida Korbett.”

Menus arrived. Rosalind peered over hers. “If you’re in love with her, why are spending every weekend with Matt and I?”

 “‘Matt and me.’ Aren’t you taking Advanced Placement English?”

Rosalind blushed.

Zach said, “My graduate students make the same mistake.”

“I won’t again, Daddy. Especially if you tell me all about Vida.” Rosalind leaned toward him, her expression full of mischief.

And without malice or forethought, Zach said, “She’s pregnant.”

“Oh my God! Really? A half-sibling!”

“Vida’s so thrilled she’s unofficially quit her job to be a full-time mother to the twins.”

 “Twins?” Rosalind shrieked. 

 “Girls,” Zach said, “But they’re not identical.”

“This is so cool.” Rosalind stopped talking while the waiter served their first course. She chewed a bite of salad, closing her eyes.

Zach had shoveled too much into his mouth and Rosalind said, “Does Mommy know? Oh my God, she doesn’t!”

“I haven’t found the time to tell her yet.”

“Want me to?”

“No, honey. You can’t.” 

They ate chocolate cake for dessert and Rosalind divulged that Matt had decided to postpone college. Zach said nothing and she smirked.

Walking to the train, he realized he must phone Beth, pronto.

But unprompted, Rosalind said, “Let me be the one to tell her, Daddy. I really don’t mind.”

“You will later.”

“So you expect me to say nothing?”

“Of course not. I’ll call her while you’re on the train.”

“You’re telling her over the phone that your lover is having twin baby girls? Lotsa luck!”

Zach needed several stiff drinks. Better to inform Beth via voicemail than foist this upon his daughter.  But entering the station, he saw the damage was done. Rosalind knew his secret and Beth didn’t.

(click here for the next episode)

Monday, October 24, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian, chapter 34: "prelude to a rumble"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by rhoda penmarq , konrad kraus and roy dismas

*Ass’t Professor of Classics and Ass’t Boxing Coach, Olney Community College; editor of The Golden Nib: Seven Previously Unpublished Radio Plays by Horace P. Sternwall (1943-1944); Olney Community College Press

for complete episode, click here

Saturday, October 22, 2011


by nooshin azadi

illustration by rhoda penmarq


he was still sitting 
under the tree
whose shadow never moved
i knelt down
and put the food in front of him
this time he didn't look me in the eyes
he simply started to eat 
i found myself confident enough
to caress his soft coat 
suddenly the tree collapsed 
and it started to drizzle

neither of us ran for shelter from the rain
i heard wings flapping above my head


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chess and the Eternal Sleep

TV sounds coming through the wall, noises of my mother in bed trying to get to sleep, the sound of the TV helping her, but hindering me. I look at the chess set on the table at the end of my bed. It was a wedding gift to my aunt and uncle who divorced before I was even born. She died a few years ago and I took the chess set to remember her by. I have other things of course, the pictures we took together, trinkets and my memories, but this chess set is something I can look at and remember her by.

It actually has an interesting story behind it, concerning a sales man from the middle-ages in Scotland who buried it in the sand out of fear of being mugged, only to never return for it, leaving to be found nearly a thousand years later. The chess set became quite a big deal. Lots of reproductions were made, including for use in the Harry Potter movies, which I remember well because I was watching it when I spent that magical night with Elizabeth. I loved her so much, but I never know what was going to happen next with her. We spent the night together and made love many times. As she slept in my arms, I laid awake and watched Harry Potter on the cheap hotel TV and noted that Harry and Ron were playing chess with the same pieces as the one I had from my aunt. I thought about waking Elizabeth and telling her, but somehow I don't think she would feel that it was that interesting a story. Maybe she was right, maybe I was wrong, but it’s funny how these things turn out. When she did awake, I told her the story of my aunt and Harry, she looked me in the eyes, kissed me hard on the mouth and then went down on me, so perhaps the stories of chess sets and recently deceased aunts is more exciting than I give it credit for. But that was Elizabeth; you never knew what was going to happen with her from one day to the next. She somewhat spoilt one of the best nights of my life though by later accusing me of taking advantage of, even though she was the one who invited me to the hotel. And she wonders why I have no confidence with women.

But my aunt is gone now; the magical pea and ham soup and walnut sponge cake that sustained me through my first 20 odd years of life has now vanished forever. I wish I still had a load in the freezer, waiting to be defrosted and eaten as I have never had soup like that before or since in my life! It’s funny the things you miss most about a person. Sometimes it’s their laugh, other times it’s their bad attitude, and sometimes it’s a steaming hot bowl of pea and ham soup. But she's gone now. Dead, along with my grandfather. Where they go after their body ends is a mystery that I often ponder into the small hours. As much as I would like something special and amazing to be waiting for us after we end our normal lives, deep down I know that there is nothingness. Just a soulless empty void that swallows us whole. A girl I once went out on a first date with asked me about my views on what comes after death once. I told her about my beliefs and how it would be just like falling asleep. Once asleep you remember nothing and you have no concept of time. Sure, occasionally you have vague and fleeting dreams, but for 97% of your sleeping time, you are mentally and physically non-existent. You have no recollection of it, you are not aware you are asleep and essentially you cease to exist for those 7 or 8 hours. People often wonder what happens after you die, and for me this is the most likely answer. No 42 virgins waiting for you; no loved ones from the past waiting to welcome you in to the pearly gates. Just an eternity of peaceful sleep and quiet. In a way I think that has its own beauty, to become one with the stars again and drift off into space. Your body going back to the dusts of space and time as you end your short stay on this planet.

I don't know. I'm making everything up as I go along. For all I know, maybe Zeus will welcome you back to Mount Olympus and give you his well-worn speech on how he has no idea why everyone is worshiping all these false Gods now a days.

I never saw that girl again. She told me she just wanted to be friends. Maybe Elizabeth had told her I was a "sex fiend", or maybe it was because her grandmother had recently died and she held strong beliefs of magic clouds and harps waiting for her after her passing. Or maybe it was because she was a stuck up bitch cunt whore who deserves to get her car smashed up and wrecked. That would teach her to reject me. I don't know where my passive aggressive nature comes from. We went out on a date, she didn't feel anything so decided to move on. But for some reason that pisses me off. I'm a nice guy, I have a good sense of humour, I’m young free and single, so what is this bitch’s problem? I tried asking her in the days, weeks and months that followed, but being one of the beautiful people I guess she has to deal with this all the time and is now an old hand at ignoring losers like me. Still though. Bitch....

Time for bed now. I hope I wake up tomorrow morning. It’s a funny feeling knowing that one day I will most likely go to sleep and then never wake up again. Will I be aware that I am dying? Lots of people seem to have a sixth sense when their time is up. Will I? Will I go to my bed willingly or will I freak out and attempt to out-stay death with lots of Redbull. How long will it be before I leave? 1 day? 100 years? I don't know.

Maybe I’ll play chess with my aunt, or maybe I’ll drift through darkness, oblivious to the silence around me.

Maybe that bitch will change her mind.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 98: fried

Return with us now to the outskirts of a Native American reservation somewhere between the harsh New Mexican desert and the depressed little town of our title on a foreboding night in September in the year 1969, the month after the summer that brought us the moon landing, Woodstock, and Charles Manson.

(Here’s what happened in the previous chapter, and here is where the whole saga began.)

Lt. Perkins sat in the idling jeep. The headlights were on, revealing a bright swath of the sundry odd objects littering Paco’s yard -- a gutted refrigerator, the chassis of a ’53 Studebaker sedan on cinderblocks, sundry automobile and truck tires, a brewing vat connected to a propane tank, an overturned Dr Pepper machine.

Perkins took out a pack of Kools and lit one up. He didn’t really enjoy smoking, but he had taken it up in college as part of his over-all project of attempting to be one of the guys. Even after joining the air force (admittedly to avoid being drafted) and making it through flight school, he still wasn’t one of the guys, but he was however firmly addicted to cigarettes. He told himself he would quit if he made it through his enlistment alive.

He looked over at the Quonset hut. The door was still open, and Masterson and Pym were standing just inside, lit by the flickering light of a black-and-white television set.

Pym switched off the headlights and turned off the engine.

He sat back and gazed up at the enormous and starry sky, smudged here and there with dark clouds. How nice it would be to be out of the service, back home in Ohio, or even better, somewhere else. Anywhere, really. Anywhere but here.

A dark cloud passed overhead, and the air around Perkins grew darker.

He vaguely became aware of some change off to his right, and he turned his head in that direction.

A great circular patch of the earth was glowing a very faint green, the closest point of the circle being just a few feet away from the jeep.

Perkins got out of the jeep and walked around to the edge of the circle, which looked to be about sixty feet in diameter.

He dropped his cigarette to the dirt and ground it out with the sole of his shoe. Then he squatted down and reached over to touch the glowing emerald earth with his index finger.

The tip of his finger sizzled and he sprang up with a yelp, dancing around holding his wrist and whining to the uncaring desert and hills and to the thousands of stars that stared down blankly in the shifting spaces between the dark night-time clouds.


On the TV set in Paco’s room a flying saucer slowly emerged from an opening in a much larger flying saucer somewhere in space with a very large moon in the background.

Paco and Derek still sat on the rug, and Captain Pym and Colonel Masterson stood just inside the open door.

Pym re-lit his pipe, puffing more smoke into the room, but not appreciably contributing to that cloud which was so thick it didn’t seem able even to escape through the doorway.

“So you’ve neither seen nor heard anything unusual tonight,” he said. “Nothing out of the way or extraordinary.”

“That’s right, your honor,” said Paco. “Nothin’. Just been me and my compadre here all night, layin’ back, bein’ cool.”

“Watchin’ the telly,” said Derek.

“Right,” said Pym.

If anyone had asked Paco and Derek why they had lied to Captain Pym, who knows what they would have said? Perhaps they simply disliked authority. Perhaps they disliked Pym. Most likely they disliked authority and disliked Pym even more.

“You want a hit of the sacred weed, Admiral?” asked Paco, proffering what was left of the joint.

Perkins loomed up into in the doorway, holding his right wrist and looking more pale-faced than usual.

“C-colonel, C-captain --” he said.

“What is it?” said Pym.

Perkins held up his right index finger. Even in this dim light it looked exactly as if he had just dipped it into a restaurant deep-fryer turned up to the absolute highest setting. Tears glistened in his eyes.

“S-sir, sirs, sirs --”

“What the fuck, Lieutenant,” said Colonel Masterson.

Perkins turned and pointed outside with his burnt finger, which was so swollen that it almost looked like he was pointing with a hot dog.

Masterson and Pym came over to look, and Perkins stepped aside. He glanced at Paco and Derek, but saw no succor from that quarter, nor was he offered any at this juncture.

Standing awkwardly side by side, the burly Masterson and the slender Pym looked out at the yard and saw nothing they hadn’t seen when they entered onto this barren property.

“What the flying fuck is it, Perkins?” said Masterson, trying not to sound scared. “I don’t see a damn --”

Another dark heavy cloud approached and spread its shadow over the land, and as the darkness glided past the jeep the ground beyond it began to glow in its shade, a soft green that grew quickly brighter and into the shape of an enormous disc on the ragged ground.

The cloud passed, and with it its shadow, and the glowing circle faded away inch by inch and then was gone, like an emerald moon obscured by a cloud.

“What the fuck,” said Masterson.

“Well, I’m not surprised,” said Pym.

“What?” said Masterson.

“It -- it b-burnt my finger, sir,” said Perkins. “When -- when I t-touched it --”

“Of course it did,” said Pym. “Radiation.”

“R-radiation? Oh no Christ --”

“Don’t worry,” said Pym. He looked at his pipe. It had gone out again. “You’ll live. You’ll probably lose that finger but you’ll live.”

Immediately Perkins thought, through his pain: Medical discharge? Disability pension?

“Oh. Good,” he said, without stuttering.

Pym knocked his pipe against the door jamb, looked into the bowl to make sure it was empty, then dropped the pipe into the side pocket of his top coat.

“Tell me,” said Pym, “that place where you saw the army truck disappear -- is it far from here?”

Paco and Derek had returned their attention to the TV set, and to the black-and-white flying saucer flying through space and heading for what looked like the planet earth.

(To be continued. All contents vetted and approved by the Republican National Committee.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian, chapter 33: across time and space

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

"you're not afraid, miss hartford?"

"oh, no, captain. especially not now - that you have invited yourself on board."

was she was one of these modern smart-aleck dames, acting all sarcastic? if she was, burke barraday had to hand it to her - she was doing it in a time of supreme danger - her ship, the "mary read ii" had been badly strafed by dimension 22 pirates, and had been careening wildly through hyperspace when barraday had spotted it, on his way back to i i g headquarters after a little r and r on sublevel x-3.

"you've got a hyperdrive badly in need of repair - you know that, don't you?"

"really? i don't think the hyperdrive has anything to do with the situation we are in. although i appreciate the thought you showed in coming on board." miss hartford reached into the side pocket of her spacesuit and took out a pack of venusian cigarettes, and a lighter in the form of a clown. " i would offer you one, captain, but i understand the space corps is strictly forbidden to indulge. how about a drink? the failing hyperdrive seems to have spared the bar - it looks fully functional."

barraday looked out the cracked window of the ship. "are you insane? if you don't want me to repair the ship at least you and your crew can come on to my ship! look! the nebulae are turning red! a sure sign this ship and everything in it is about to be destabilized into y-atoms! let's go!!"

"relax, captain." miss hartford took a deep drag on her cigarette. "everything is under control."

for complete episode, click here

Friday, October 14, 2011

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 97: magnificent

The Seven (Brad Dexter third from right)

Our author Larry Winchester now suddenly brings us back to a couple of characters we haven’t seen in a while: Paco, the Native American brujo, and Derek, the somewhat debauched English rock musician.

The time: a night in early September, 1969.

The place, a Quonset hut on the outskirts of an Indian reservation, not too far away from a wretched little town in New Mexico called Disdain...

(Click here for our preceding thrilling episode; go here to return to the very beginning of what Horace P. Sternwall termed "a ripping good yarn".)

Paco and Derek sat on the rug, staring at the old Philco black-and-white on a metal milk crate. The shack was as clouded as a cat’s eye marble, with gentle striations of smoke undulating from the floor to the ceiling. The only illumination was what flickered from the television set along with a faint glow of starlight from the two open windows.

Derek passed a fat joint to Paco.

“Who is that fuckin’ geezer, Chief?”

Paco took a long toke, held it in for a good ten seconds, and then let it out in a great whoosh that briefly disturbed the all-pervasive clouds of smoke and then was quickly absorbed by them.

“Who?” he asked.

“That fuckin’ bloke,” said Derek, and he pointed at the TV.

Brad Dexter grimaced nervously in close-up on the screen.

“Oh, okay. Just askin’,” said Brad.

And Brad followed Frank over to the ramp.

“He’s, uh, the casino manager,” said Paco. “I think --”

He took another toke.

“Nah,” said Derek, “I mean like in real life --”

He reached over and took the joint from Paco’s fingers.

“Oh, yeah,” said Paco. He let the smoke out slowly. “He’s that guy, you know -- the fuckin’ guy in that movie, the one about the fuckin’ seven guys --”

“The seven dwarves?”

Derek took a series of small but efficient tokes.

“No, the fuckin’ gunslingers -- Magnificent --”

Seven?” said Derek, in between tokes.

“Right,” said Paco.

“What about it?” asked Derek.

“What about what?” said Paco.

Derek paused, blinking, and then slowly let it all out.

“What about the movie?” he asked.

“The movie,” said Paco.

“Magnificent,” said Derek.

“Magnificent what?” said Paco.

“Seven, man.”

“Oh, right,” said Paco. “That dude in the movie we’re watching. He was in The Magnificent Seven.”

“Oh,” said Derek, staring at the TV. A commercial had come on. For Chesterfields. “That fuckin’ guy. I don’t know his name.”

“What the fuck was it?” asked Paco.

“Rod Cameron?” said Derek.

“No,” said Paco.

“Um. Brock Peters?”

“Fuck no.”

“Lex Barker?” said Derek.

“No, stop it,” said Paco. “Pass me the fuckin’ joint.”

“Sure, Chief,” and he did. “Biff McGuire?”

“Seriously, man,” said Paco, and he took another big toke, “stop it --”

Someone knocked on the door.

“Shit,” said Paco.

Whoever it was knocked again.

“Come in,” said Paco, still holding it in.

The door opened. Captain Pym stood in the doorway, and behind him and to his left stood Colonel Masterson.

“The fuckin’ cavalry,” said Derek. “Oy, mate, the seventh guy in The Magnificent Seven -- you know, the one who thought the villagers had all this gold and shit --”

“Brad Dexter?” said Pym.

“Thank you,” said Derek.

Paco finally let out his lungful, and nodded.

Brad fuckin’ Dexter,” he said.

(Continued here. All contents approved by the Wasilla Bureau of Objectionable Literature.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

araminta and ferdirondo, part 2 : the south tower

translated from the carthaginian by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

to begin at the beginning, click here

"and so, my dear general, with the savage hordes at the gates, and the dawn breaking, you have nought better to do than gaze upon the fading stars? it would seem that the ball is over, and though i know ought of the art of war, should you not be offering some attendance at the altar of mars, in preparation for the coming battle?"
ferdirondo's captains gaped at each other at this effrontery, and even the wits and sprites attendant on araminta stepped back apace. but ferdirondo only smiled.

" a pretty speech, my lady, and most apposite. but for my part i have never believed in dealing with the future - does it even exist?"

"a question for the philosophers - and you, general, have solved it?"

"i solve nothing. i only believe in the present - in war - and in love." and ferdirondo
looked into araminta's eyes.

araminta - the ever clever, ever witty araminta - hesitated. "you talk of love, at a time like this?"

"it is always time for love."

"ah." araminta took her eyes from ferdirondo's and looked around. "and if barbarians brandishing swords suddenly appeared on yonder wall, what would you do? stop them with a glance?"

"no, but you might."

a few attendants, both araminta's and ferdirondo's, laughed at this. the venerable duke of w--------, ferdirondo's second in command, then stepped forward.

"day is almost here, my lord. the camp may need your attendance."

ferdirondo started, as if waking from a dream. "yes, of course. adelpho!"

"yes, my lord." the youngest of the lieutenants came forward.

"escort any of these people who wish it, to the south tower. they have been kind enough to attend to us through the night. we can only repay them by giving them the finest view, of our victory in the day." the captains and lieutenants looked at each other approvingly. this speech was more to their taste.

"yes, my lord," replied the apple-cheeked adelpho.

a few of the citizens hesitated, and made as if to leave on their own. araminta did not look back at them, keeping her eyes fixed on ferdirondo. but her hostess, the crown princess persephone, quelled the querulous ones with a steely glance, and turning back to ferdirondo, replied:

"indeed, general, your offer is too generous. as we watch the victory, if we are not too overwhelmed by the gallantry of yourself and your officers, perhaps we will find time to plan a victory celebration - unworthy as it must be."

ferdirondo bowed to the princess. "you honor me."

everything had been said that was to be said. ferdirondo and his entourage repaired to the camp and the north wall. araminta and the crown princess and their entourage followed adelpho to the south tower.

"i am sure we can find our own way," the crown persephone murmured to the youth, to put him at his ease. "after all, it is my tower - my father the duke's tower."

"i do not question the general's orders."

"naturally. and no doubt you will return in time for the battle."

"i have every hope of that." the youth blushed.

they made their way through the deserted streets. echoes of the stirrings of both armies drifted through a morning fog.

they reached the south tower. a beggar and a flower seller sat beside it. the entourage ignored them, except for araminta, who gave the beggar a coin from her kingdom, and bought a single flower.

the princess took the key to the tower from her pocket and turned to adelpho. "thank you, lieutenant. you have brought us safely here. we can climb the stairs ourselves."

adelpho bowed. "then i wish you good day." he turned to araminta. "perhaps you ladies could say a prayer for our success."

"poor boy," replied araminta. "i do not say prayers. i have prayers said to me."

all, including the beggar and the flower seller, laughed at this sally, and the princess having unlocked the tower, the party began to climb the stairs.

part 3: everywhere was ferdirondo