sitting in the mud, faraday watched the moon move slowly across the sky.
he did not know anything about astronomy or the names of the stars or constellations, but he liked to look at them when he wanted to relax.
after a while, grell, the butler, came out.
i beg your pardon, sir, grell addressed faraday, but the gentlemen were wondering if you would be rejoining them any time soon.
tell them i do not know when i will be rejoining them.
very good, sir.
after another while, grell came out again.
beg your pardon again, sir, but mr harris says he will have to return to the city very shortly, and he would appreciate it if the matter of the ingoldsby fund, in particular, was cleared up before he had to leave.
thank you, grell.
realizing that faraday had no more to say, grell returned to the house.
time passed. the moon drifted in the sky, along with some attendant clouds.
grell came out for a third time.
what is it now, grell? faraday asked him.
mr jefferies says that he is leaving, sir, and he wished me to tell you that if the southeast asia market collapses, it will be on you. those were his words , sir.
thank you, grell. tell me, grell, have you ever read lord lenderby’s memoirs, particularly related to his experiences in madagascar?
no, sir, i am afraid i have not.
have you ever read nick natter’s big book of jokes?
no, sir, i have never read that either.
give the gentlemen a message from me, grell.
tell them - tell them - on second thought, i have no message.
very good, sir.
grell returned to the house.
the lights dimmed in the drawing room behind faraday’s back, changing the pattern of the shadows across the mud he continued to sit in.
this won’t take long. your application has not been accepted and your designation for reassignment will be proceed as scheduled. any questions?
i was wondering if an exception could be made in my case.
there are no procedures in place at this level for any exceptions. i don’t think there are at any level, but that meed not detain us here.
please, listen to me. i really think an exception should be made in my case.
because i am exceptional.
what is exceptional about you?
i am special. i am not like other people.
what is special about you?
i am different.
what is different about you?
i just have this feeling that i am different. i look at other people and i just know that i am different.
can you show me in some way how you are different? would you like to do a little dance for me?
no, but i can sing you a little song.
please, i would love to hear it.
once upon a time, once upon a time
i was walking along, singing my song
singing my song - i forget the rest…
well, that was very nice. i can see that you really are exceptional. so here is what i am going to do for you. when you leave here, instead of going down the hall to the processing center, get on the elevator and go downstairs and go outside. take a right, and three doors down you will find georgie’s nail salon. go in and ask for maria theresa and tell her little ed jones sent you. not big ed jones, or medium sized ed jones, but little ed jones. do you think you can do that?
yes, absolutely, thank you so much.
all right, you better get going.
the interviewee left and the interviewer pressed a button his desk and another interviewee entered.
please have a seat.
this won’t take long. your application has not been accepted and your designation for reassignment will be proceed as scheduled. any questions?
i was wondering if an exception could be made in my case.
This correspondence was drafted July 10, 2017. In
the meantime, I've discovered my address never was in an area you
serve. I did not receive that information from your offices, by the way.
I had to go to a competitor before verifying with another one of your
representatives ... if only they had been so forthcoming earlier. Was
the first agent I spoke to able to retain his commission?
here we are in September, after quite a few twists and convolutions,
while you people must have stood around the water cooler, making
predictions with chicken bones and which way the wind would be blowing
until Voila! the computer program pipes up with a number, a different
one on each day in fact, and makes its predictions, one of which is the
most auspicious charge to bill my non-existent account. Well,
I have news for you. My account doesn't exist, nor was any service
rendered. Therefore, I have deduced your accounting department is a
figment of my imagination. I don't owe REDACTED a bill conjured from the
ether and remitted to your dreams. Nor can I sue a ghost for lost time,
seek damages incurred in a nightmare, let alone deny your staff
complicit as I ran around in circles. Noting these difficulties, I suggest you look for other work - I don't know how you're getting paid.
You should look into it.
can't tap my feet for fear they'll hear it through the floor -- musk melons
despite being designated, when he was a middle school student, as a possible president of the world federation, aand most likely in his class to succeed, david had never amounted to diddly.
and today - was the day.
when david had won his diploma back in the day, he had also was awarded seven points - two for being named most likely to succeed, four for being designated a possible future president, of the federation, and one because the scorer liked his looks.
when the graduation ceremony was over, and david found himself out in the street blinking in the sunlight, he had been immediately accosted by a couple of villains named eddie the egg and frankie the fan.
eddie was called “the egg” for no particular reason. neither his head nor his body was shaped like an egg. but he had to be called something.
nobody knew why frankie was called “the fan”. or if fan meant fan like an electrical appliance that blew cold air, or fan like a paper or bamboo artifice that the empress of japan might use to cool herself on a summer day, or fan like a football fan.
when eddie and frankie first encountered david, they told him that they would like to buy his points from him. they explained that ninety-nine out of one hundred graduates were never able to redeem their points before they expired, but that they, eddie and frankie, would give him three cents on the dollar for them, cash up front, and that he would actually have the money in hand to actually buy some real stuff.
david politely declined.
eddie and frankie did not argue, or tell david that he would see them around, but just told him to have a nice day and took their leave.
david had laughed when he saw them disappear down the street.
three cents on the dollar!
life stretched out before him like a long rainbow road littered with endless success stories.
the world was his oyster, whatever an oyster was. he would conquer it and make it his and make it beautiful.
he decided to have a real cup of coffee, or maybe a martini, before conquering it.
that was then.
now was now.
things had not worked out.
he had been lost in the crowd. and trampled in the stampede, of people exactly like himself, who had been voted most likely to succeed. some of them had actually succeeded - for a little while.
he had walked every road and found them dusty, or sometimes muddy.
he had been whipped by the rain and drifted in the snow.
he had looked in every face and found no friend.
he had knocked on every door and heard no footsteps. except those behind him.
he had come to the end of the trail.
the sun was setting over the lonesome pines.
in the distance, a lonesome whistle blew.
as david was standing in the street musing on these sorrowful tidings, somebody bumped into him.
he looked around.
who should he see before him but eddie the egg and frankie the fox. neither of them looked a day older than he had seen them so many lifetimes ago.
do you remember me? david asked them.
of course, said eddie rte egg, we remember everybody.
can you guys help me out? david asked. even a nickel will do, for a last cup of coffee.
we can do better than that, frankie the fox said. we can set you straight, but this time you have to do just what we say, and not give us any lip or disrespect. is it a deal?
yes, david said. i place myself in your hands. unreservedly.
come along then, frankie said. there is a mcdonalds right here, let’s go inside.
eddie bought a cup of coffee and gave it to david, and they led david over to a corner table.
wait here, frankie told david, and we will be right back with your new instructions.
another one bites the dust, eddie said, when he and frankie were back outside on the street.
forget about him, frankie said, we have a busy day ahead if us.
derek was still sitting on the faded green couch, where she had left him last night.
outside, the sun was shining.
got any plans for today? callista asked.
not really, derek answered.
i might as well get myself a cup of coffee, callista said.
callista went into the little kitchen alcove and poured herself a cup of the coffee derek had made from his imported finca kusillo bolivian beans.
one thing about derek - he knew how to make coffee.
callista looked in the little cupboard for something to eat.
there was nothing but a cellophane pack of horrible little powdered donuts, that she had bought at the gas station at the bottom of the hill.
i should drive the twenty miles down the hill into the village, callista thought, and get some real food at that cute little pastry shop - like some raspberry croissants, or some cream puffs. or something healthy from that gourmet shop, like a black truffle and green bean salad.
if only the rain would stop.
it had been raining since they had driven up the mountain three days ago.
she wrapped one of the little powdered doughnuts in a napkin and took it and the mug of coffee and went back into the big room with its two hundred chairs that took up most of the space in the rented cabin.
rain continued to pour down the big picture window and a gust of wind shook the cabin.
how did you sleep last night? callista asked derek.
like a baby. never better.
maybe we could work on the project. it’s what we came up here for.
not today. we are on vacation, remember?
all right, just asking. you do look kind of tired.
i couldn’t sleep last night. i had terrible dreams.
about anything in particular?
about that miserable excuse for a human being sidney.
yes, i can see why that would be upsetting.
in the dream, sidney was a stonefish the size of godzilla and he was engaged to to my mother.
poor sidney, callista said, he was really such a wonderful person. it was terrible what happened to him.
you know, derek said, i could stand everything else about this dump if only they had better reception. and the tv only has about a hundred channels! on the top of a mountain! i am getting a little tired of watching shows on my phone.
yeah, it makes you wonder sometimes, callista agreed. if the rain stops we could go for a walk, maybe see a bear or something.
yeah, right. i wish i could talk to doctor willett.
you can talk to her. it is what you have a phone for, isn’t it? it is nice and clear outside, you should get good reception.
a bunch of the boys were hanging out in the back room of old ben budge’s billiard parlor and general store..
a big storm was brewing in the mountains.
a battered old buick pulled up in front of the billiard parlor.
a city slicker with a waxed mustache, wearing a bearskin coat, got out of the buick.
a blonde bombshell made herself comfortable in the back seat.
sure you don’t want to come inside? the city slicker asked her.
no thank you. i have better things to do than get ogled by a bunch of yokels. and whistled at by a lot of werewolves and catcalled by cavemen and zicked on by zombies.
suit yourself. i thought you might like to get out and stretch your legs.
that’s all i am to you, isn’t it, just a pair of legs? just a pair of legs to whistle at that you can show off to the boys in the back room.
all right, if that is the way you feel. you want something to drink? a sasparilla, maybe, or an ice cold coca cola?
a mrs barker’s old fashioned root beer would be nice.
all right, i will see if they have one. and with that, the city slicker turned and went into the store.
the city slicker, whose name was bradley barrington iii, decided to take his time palavering in the store, to give the blonde bombshell time to get out of the car and start hitchhiking up the road or down the road or wherever she wanted too go.
he had picked her up in tallahassee on his way to waycross georgia. he had never thought she would
stick with him as far as richmond or baltimore, let alone all the way up to these dark hills where the apocalypse was about to unfold.
the blonde bombshell, whose name was betty bolanski, watched bradley barrington iii enter the store. she opened her purse and took out a small but sleekly molded pearl handled revolver and checked to see if it was loaded, even though she knew it was.
i will give him a few minutes she thought, to get palavering with his pals.
bradley entered the billiard parlor door. the billiard parlor was deserted, but he could hear voices in the back room. the door to the back room was open and he walked in.
ben and the boys were sitting around the old stove, which was unlit. the cracker barrel glowered from a corner, with an ice chest setting peaceably beside it.
what can we do for you, mister? old ben budge asked him.
well, i was just passing through, and i wondered where this road went?
it don’t go nowhere, it stays right where it is.
i guess i will stay on it then, bradley smiled. say, are they any zombies in these parts?
no, sir, we know how to treat them in these parts. we take proper care of our business. you got no worries on that score.
i like that coat, mister, bob dobie said. you shoot that bear yourself?
why, yes, i did, as a matter of fact. i had some help, though.
you had some help.
yes, a bunch of us fellows from beta omega pi went on a shoot in siberia -
what kind of pie was that again? blueberry possum pie?
- and i was lucky enough to bag one - one big enough for all five of us to make coats . of course, we had a native guide and he was a splendid fellow and did most of the work.
i think it was a hard thing, mister, bob dobie said, that you shot that bear yourself instead of giving a poor man work.
yes, bradley agreed. but we did not actually sew up the coats ourselves so there was some work there, you know.
this is all well and good, mister, old ben budge said, but this is a store after all. did you want to buy something?
yes, i would like an ice cold coca cola, if you have one.
a nice cold coca cola?
no, an ice cold coca cola - ice, as in, there was ice on the windshield because use it was thirty below zero.
not, nice, like, that gal has got nice legs?
well, mister, ice or nice, either way, if you just give me a nickel you can help yourself from that ice chest over there, which as you can see says coca-cola right on it.
barrington made his escape with the green bottle of coca-cola, which was, in fact, quite cold. he had nothing to complain of there.
what a pack of neanderthals, he thought. hopefully the apocalypse will wash them all away.
the sky had gotten noticeably darker in the short time he had been in the store.
as he had hoped, betty bolanski was gone. with a sigh of relief, he got into the buick and turned it around and got back on the highway.
a princess was seated at a little table in her garden, reading a sacred book.
a little flower was growing in the grass beside her.
it began to rain.
the princess, who was sheltered from the rain by an umbrella set in the middle of the table, did not look up from her book.
“it’s raining! it’s raining!” cried the flower excitedly.
the princess raised her eyebrow. “so?" she asked the flower.
“it has not rained in forty years!” the flower replied.
“yes, but the gardener waters you every day. water is water, however you get it. are you not satisfied with the way the gardener fulfills his duty?”
“but - this is different! it just feels different,” the flower protested.
“nonsense.” the princess returned to her book.
after a while the rain stopped. the princess fell asleep over her book, as she did most afternoons.
the rain returned again. this time, it spoke to the flower.
“i will return tonight, “ the rain said, “when the princess and all her servants are asleep. we wil go away together, you and i, to a land where i will visit you every day. do not say anything to the princess about this. she is old, and does not understand these things.”
“i won’t tell, “ the flower promised.
the princess woke up, put a marker in her book to show where she had stopped reading, and went inside .
it has been a good day, the princess thought. i have learned a great deal.
she looked forward to the night, and pleasant dreams.
the sun was shining through the window of the little attic room of mrs starsh’s rooming house.
the sun is shining, thought billy, that reminds me of something, but for the life of me i can not quite put my finger on it.
he put his shoes on and went down the back stairs to the kitchen. he knew that breakfast was probably over, but he thought mrs starsh might mot begrudge him a cup of coffeee or a leftover scrap of bacon.
through the door of the kitchen billy could see old moe gleaper and uncle rumpus still sitting over their coffee and looking forward to a long day of doing nothing.
i wish i had it made like these two old fools, billy thought. i wonder what roguery they were up to, that they could hatch such comfortable nest eggs that they could just drink coffee in the morning and whiskey in the twilight for the rest of their natural lives.
is that you, billy? old moe gleaper croaked.
who else do i look like, billy thought, but he just said, yes sir.
mister wendell slurp was by this morning looking for you, old moe said.
of course, thought billy, that was what i remembered i forgot. i told mr wendell slurp i would accompany him on some tomfoolery or other down by the creek .
mr slurp left a message for you, uncle rumpus said.
and what was that? billy asked.
that you were a double crossing toad eating little weasel, and that he was going to string you up on the elm tree on the courthouse lawn and cut your liver and gizzard out and feed then to the yellow dog behind mrs cleo’s.
he said that, did he?
word for word.
well then i reckon i better keep a sharp lookout, billy said. he turned to mrs starsh, who was busily scrubbing her old black frying pan.
say, missus, i know i am late for breakfast, but might i beg a little scrap of leftovers or a swig of your fine aromatic coffee?
what about your rent, young man? mrs starsh replied.
what about my rent?
you were to get no breakfast this morning, billy, until you paid your rent. i got folks to pay and i can’t be stuffing good food into useless mouths.
that is awful sudden, mrs starsh. i thought you were a christian woman.
and i thought you were an enterprising young man, with one foot in the stirrup.
be that as it may, do you think i could have any coffee that might be left?
if there are any dregs in the pot, help yourself.
thank you kindly, ma’am. you will surely reap your reward when we all gather at the river.
after fortifying himself with the inch and a half of vile sludge in the coffee pot, and thanking mrs starsh again, billy walked through the dining room and out into the street.
watch out for wendell slurp! uncle rumpus called out as the door closed behind him. and uncle rumpus and old moe laughed as if that were the funniest thing they ever heard, like the two toothless but still mean old dogs that they were.
billy wandered up the street to the big trail saloon. miss lily dale was up early, plying her trade in front of it.
good morning, miss lily.
good morning, billy.
think you could spare a nickel this morning? a plugged one will do, if you ain’t got no other.
go on, billy , miss lily laughed. what have i always told you? you wasn’t born to be no rounder, no sort of fancy man that ladies will spend their hard earned gains upon.
i didn’t ask you for your life savings, miss lily, i just asked you for a nickel.
you should give up your sad attempts at skullduggery and get a job. i hear big frank tentpole over at the lazy q is hiring for next month’s cattle drive.
a job! billy protested. i told my old pappy i would never lower myself to such degradistical humiliation. a man is born free, and should walk the earth free.
well then you have yourself a free day, billy. and watch out for mr wendell slurp, who has threatened to cut out your gizzard on the courthouse lawn at high noon or some such evilness. it is all over town that he means to do so.
damnation, thought billy, as he left miss lily and wended his way down the dusty street to the outskirts of town. maybe i better take old slurp’s threats seriously. i should find myself a magic lamp or something like it.
down past the barber shop and the pawn shop, past the last drop saloon and the old bridge over the creek, and down the hill, was the town dump.
billy kicked through it looking for a magic lamp.
he found one that looked like it might do, and picked it up and rubbed it.
make a wish, the lamp said in a wheezy voice.
a wish? what is this, a wish? how about three wishes?
i am sorry, the lamp replied, one wish is all i have left in me.
i see, said billy, it is no wonder you were lying here in the town dump, instead of on the shelf of a respectable pawn shop.
there is no need to get nasty, young man. do you want your one wish or not?
all right, billy replied, give me a minute to think about it.
i am in no hurry.
all i want, billy said after a while, all i want - is for everybody to leave me alone.
fair enough, the lamp said, wish granted.
billy looked around. nothing had changed. there was nobody around, but there had not been anybody around before he made the wish.
there were no dogs or cats around, or any birds in the sky, but he had not noticed any before.
how do i know my wish came true? he asked the lamp.
the lamp made no reply, and he dropped it on the ground.
he climbed up the hill to the road, and walked back into town.
he looked in at the last drop saloon. it was the town’s lower class drinking spot, as opposed to the higher class big trail saloon on main street, but it usually did a good business early, as the town riff raff , like their betters, could not drink all day if they did not drink in the morning.
it was empty.
billy headed up to main street. he passed willie’s barbershop and looked in at the window.
no willie. and no customers.
miss lily was gone from in front of the last trail saloon, and billy entered the saloon and it too was empty, of customers and bartenders and waitresses.
billy went behind the bar and found a bottle and poured himself a glass of whiskey.
then he took the bottle with him and went back out into the street.
a strange silence prevailed. the lamp had done its work well, he had to give it credit.
he went back to the boarding house. as he had expected, mrs starsh was gone, and old moe gleaper and uncle rumpus and all the other boarders. but he grabbed his bag with all his belongings in it.
he put the jelly doughnuts and the bottle of whiskey in the bag and slung it over his shoulder and headed out of town.
the road was dusty.
as he walked along, he thought of all his past lives, when he had been billy the kid and billy the lion and william wilson the magician and two fisted will willoughby and bill-moloch the ancient god of lenmuria.
those were the good times. would they ever come again?