Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Black Helicopters

I remember the Black Helicopters. That's right, I saw them. They hovered right over the crib, shaking the rafters, the pulse of their rotors like a bass drum played double time deep in a black cat bone. I didn't know whether to fall screaming to the floor or run into the street shouting platitudes to glory and firing my riot gun at erstwhile targets hidden in shadows. 
I wasn't the only one. It seems our own River City had been chosen, along with other metropolises across the nation, as practice grounds for doppelganger constructions born of the sands of Araby and beyond. San Diego was one, among others, all without prior notice and a mere decade or so after the Big One - 9/11. 
Actually, I stepped out on the roof to observe a squad of choppers a hairsbreadth over 100 feet overhead maneuvering like the bats that rose from the Mississippi on many a summer evening, door gunners and missiles glinting menace on that moonlight night. I could almost reach out and touch them.
The paper was headlined with explanations the next morning. It had been an exercise to save our freedoms after all, in league with our now infamous efforts to save the world from "terr'ists" while spreading Democracy afar. 
Visiting the supermarket later in the day I questioned the two off duty policeman there if they had been informed, and, to the purpose of such an exercise. 
"You don't want Bin Laden attacking us again, do you?", in proper authoritative tones from the officer responding.
I didn't have the heart to remind him he had died, of kidney disease in Pakistan, just ten years before.

the fog of war --
even the general 
dons his battle fatigues


Monday, September 7, 2020

the impostor, part five

by nick nelson

part five of five

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

i woke in darkness to the sounds of boots in the narrow corridor outside the little room I had been placed in.

i heard shouts, and doors being broken open.

then the door to the little room was burst open, before my eyes could begin to accustom to the darkness…

dr eusebius’s bookstore was being raided by some branch or other of the imperial army or police, i never did find out which.

i was taken to a dungeon, and then an interrogation room somewhere in the great city, whose layout and streets were of course a complete mystery to me.. so that i was in the last degree of “not knowing where i was.”

i never saw any of my companions again. i always assumed they were taken to the same facility as myself, but i never had any way to really confirm this. for all i ever knew they were all killed in the raid.

but whether they were alive or dead, a tired looking imperial functionary in a particularly unsightly red and gray uniform urged me, in a manner indicating he had little time to waste on me, to denounce them, and the venerable dr eusebius, for various crimes and heresies whose exact nature i had neither the wit nor inclination to decode.

faced with the implacable reality of the imperial torture apparatus, i immediately acquiesced to the tired looking officer’s demands, and signed, without making a pretense of reading them, a series of confessions and denunciations he placed before me.

i was then taken away, certain, i thought, to be placed against a wall and shot.

but instead, after watching the sun come up over the wall of the jail’s large courtyard, i was trucked with twenty or so other miscreants to a prison on the edge of the desert, where i spent the next fifteen years fastening epaulets to the uniforms of the imperial armies and navies.

you can guess the rest. when the empire fell, the prisons were opened, and all such anonymous wretches as myself released, to find our way to the burned and looted capital.

such is my tale. in some ways it may seem an outlandish one, but is it not, on reflection, the story of all men?

i loved, and was not loved. i was betrayed, and betrayed others. i spent long decades doing repetitious drudge work, interspersed with a few moments of unspeakable horror. i was a cuckold, a murderer, and a coward.

i say no more. i hope that this brief account satisfies the requirements of the application.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

the impostor, part four

by nick nelson

part four of five

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

we continued on our way across the alternately swampy and desert waste. our party now consisted of six - myself, griselda, dee, cora lee the camel, desdemoma - and the odious badboy the sailor.

outwardly all were at ease, but savage passions - mine - simmered beneath the surface, like lava beneath a restless volcano.

desdemona, my beloved, to whom i had dedicated my existence, whom i had served so faithfully for so long, and whom i would have happily given my life for, now had no further use for me, and only had eyes for the wretched little twerp badboy.

one night, after we had made camp in a particularly swampy spot, and after the campfire had died down and we had settled down to sleep - except for badboy and desdemona who had settled down to less sedentary pursuits - i could stand it no longer.

the sounds of their infernal laughter and frenetic lovemaking drifted to my ears through the miasmic night.

i rose from the paltry blanket i had spread out on the damp ground - a slight mist was also falling - and seizing a large, sharp rock, crept up on the larger rock behind which the unholy pair were … i refrain from describing what met my eyes…

i bashed both their skulls in with my rock.

no sooner had i done the deed than i regretted it. i crept back to my blanket and awaited the dawn.

griselda and dee did not seem as surprised as they might have, when in the morning i confessed what i had done.

“it is unfortunate, abad,” griselda said , “that you could not better control your unruly passions. but what is done is done. all we can do is push on.”

“we will hear what dr eusebius has to say,” dee added, a bit more ominously.

in due time we exited the swamp land which had formerly been the great lake that desdemona had drunk, and after crossing a couple of small rivers, entered the windswept desert that surrounded the great city.

at least we reached the city, and quickly found the celebrated dr eusebius, of whom i had by this time heard so much, that i was rather weary of his name, than curious about him.

to my surprise, the good doctor was not a professor or personage of note at some great school or gymnasium, but the proprietor of a small bookstore in a dim back street of the city.

the doctor himself was a wizened creature who looked to be about eight hundred years old, and of no imposing appearance.

be that as it may, we were all given a warm enough welcome. in briefly describing our voyage, griselda and dee made no mention of either desdemona or badboy or my murder of then, simply referring to the disappearance of the lake as “a fortuitous occurrence.”

i was shown to a cot in a back room of the bookstore, and prepared to sleep under a roof for the first time in many months.

i fell into a deep slumber…

which was interrupted in the hour before dawn…

part five

Saturday, September 5, 2020

the impostor, part three

by nick nelson

part three of five

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

my companions and I came to a large body of water. it stretched to the horizon, but looked very placid.

“how are we to cross this?” i asked.

“i do not know,” griselda replied. “i was expecting rivers, with ferrymen to carry us across them. but this looks like a great lake, or perhaps a sea. alas, perhaps we will never cross the great continent and make contact with dr eusebus. i had so set my heart on sitting at his feet and drinking in his wisdom.”

“and there is not a breath of air on the sea.” dee pointed out. “even if we had a boat.”

“i have a boat,” a voice behind us said.

we turned around and beheld a skinny little fellow, clad only in a loincloth and a white turban, with what looked like a board under his arm. he had apparently been sleeping, or hiding, behind a rock we had passed on our approach to the water.

“greetings,” the little fellow announced. “i am badboy the sailor, whose renown mayhave reached you, though that is so much applesauce. i overheard your conversation, and you are right, there is no wind to carry a boat, nor has there been for as long as i have been here, which is going on seven years.”

“you said you had a boat?” dee asked him.

“yes, i do.” he took the board from under his arm. it indeed had a little sail attached flatly to it , which could be raised to make a craft capable of carrying himself.

“i thought you meant a boat which could carry al of us across,” dee sighed.

“did i say that? but look here, i have another suggestion. just a suggestion, mind you.”

“and what might that be?” griselda asked him.

“that fellow there,” he pointed to me. “i perceive, with my razor sharp senses, honed by centuries of wandering the planet, that he has what appears to be some sort of living creature coiled in his basket. is it not so, my man?”

“indeed it is,” i replied, not much caring for the tone of his voice. “it is a python, one under the spell of a powerful magician.” i did not add that i lived to break the spell and restore her to her true beautiful self.

“excellent. such a creature might be useful in a method to get us all across the desert and into the great city.”

“she was herself a sorceress of great beauty of power,” i heard myself say, although i had not wished to.

the self-styled sailor smiled. “better and better. may i see her, please.”

“yes, abad,” my companions all urged me. “let desdemona out, and let us all see what she can do.”

at that moment a lone cloud passed over the sun, and i had a feeling of terrible foreboding.

but what could i do? the hand of fate was upon me.

i took the basket off my back and placed it in the ground.

desdemoma slithered out, and without waiting for any instructions from the little sailor, approached the edge of the water…

and in a single gulp, swallowed the whole of the lake, leaving a vast expanse of sand, interspersed by patches of marsh, and some terrible looking mossy trees…

but this contributed only a liittle to the astonishment we felt, for desdemomna herself had been restored to herself - and was even more radiantly beautiful than anything i had imagined.

i was too stunned to speak, but griselda simply turned to the sailor and said, “thank you, sir. we greatly appreciate your efforts on our behalf.”

“it was nothing , madam,” he smiled. “ i was only the poor instrument, and spectator.”

“oh, but we owe you everything!” desdemona exclaimed. “everything!”

thus was my doom sealed.

part four

Friday, September 4, 2020

the impostor, part two

by nick nelson

part two of five

to begin at the beginning, click here

i came to a crossroads. i saw a castle in the distance.

an old peasant woman was passing by and i enquired of her as to whom the castle belonged to.

“to count cagliostro, the snake-charmer.” she replied.

“do you think i might find employment with the count?”

“the local folk fear and shun hm, so he is always looking for help. a stout looking fellow such as yourself should would most likely be welcomed with open arms.”

in due course i presented myself to the count. i found him to be a man of gravity and impeccable manners, though more than a bit aloof.

“i could use a man to clean the snakes’ cages, and to clean the vipers’ pit, and to feed the python and clean her cage. do you think you can do that?”

“i do.”

“very well. but keep in mind, you are responsible for your own safety. if you become incapacitated for any' reason, you may find yourself being made use of by being fed to the python. is that agreeable to you?”

i assured him that it was, and embarked on my new career.

in making the acquaintance of the python, i discovered that she was a sorceress named desdemona who had been bewitched by her previous owner before being sold to the count. i commiserated with her, but not having any expertise in sorcery or even alchemy, there was nothing i could do for her.

life in the castle was not so bad, although punctuated by occasional droughts and tornados, and despite the count’s being a stern taskmaster who demanded good service.

in the cold evenings, with my day’s work done, i would often sit beside the fire in the kitchen. the fire was usually tended by a scullery maid named griselda who was a saint, and a man of all work named dee, who was a mystic and theologian. i learned a great deal from both of them during my years in the castle, but they were never able to enlighten me on the best way to remove the spell from poor desdemona, whom i had promised to assist and who remained trapped in the body of the python.

one night the castle was rent with howls and shriekings far louder than those routinely visited on it by the forces of nature. a troop of demons, summoned how and by whom i never knew, had descended on it and carried away by the count, for what reasons - if any - i also never found out.

the faithful old cook, thais, thus freed from the count’s influence, turned into a blue bird and flew away.

i freed the snakes and some other creatures from the count’s menagerie - including a camel, a tiger, and two peacocks - and griselda, dee, and i packed such meager provisions as we could carry and set out from the now deserted castle.

griselda and dee were determined to cross the rivers and mountains into the steppes of the center of the world, and reach the great city of go, where they hoped to find and meet the great mage dr eusebius.

<> desdemona and i volunteered to accompany them, as did the camel, who had not fled with the other animals, and whose name was cora lee.

so on a windy, drizzly morning we set out, with desdemona in a basket on my back, cora lee loaded with water bottles, dried figs, and other edibles, dee carrying his enormous leatherbound book of the prayers and spells of all nations, and griselda confidently leading the way.

part three

Thursday, September 3, 2020

the impostor, part one

by nick nelson

part one of five

I was born in the city of b—————, in the country of s——————.

my parents were honest, hardworking people. they went to work every day and came home at night. when i questioned them about the nature of their jobs, because i was a moderately curious child, they were never able to give me what i regarded as satisfactory answers.

when i was old enough i was sent to school. i did nor find schooling to be an interesting or edifying experience. as i can red and write, and have a functional, if rudimentary grasp of mathematics, i assume i learned these things in the school, but have no memory of actually doing so.

i did not make friends with the other children. i was big and looked strong (but was not nearly as strong as i looked) and i was shunned but not tormented. the male students walked past me without seeming to notice me. the females often shrank back and rolled their eyes and shuddered.

all through my youth i had one idea - to get away. i do not remember that i had any particular destination in mind - i just wanted to get away.

at last the day came. i was no longer required by law to attend school. i was free.

free to do what? and go where?

one day when my father was out of the house - probably going down to the corner store to buy the newspaper - his one form of relaxation - i told my other i was leaving home and asked her if she would give me a small sum of money.

to my bewilderment and embarrassment she began to cry . but she quickly dried her tears and gave me a small amount of money (i had secretly hoped for a larger one) and i was on my way.

the sign in the storefront window said “soldiers of fortune - recruiting station”. i went inside.

a little man behind a desk said, “so you want to be a soldier of fortune, eh?”

“i just want a square meal,” i told him.

“well, there is no reason you can’t have both,” he replied.

i got my square meal and found myself on a ship bound for the continent of c————.

the first thing i heard when i got on shore was a voice saying, “look at this fellow. he looks strong enough.”

i was taken to a warehouse behind the wharf. i spent the next twenty years - or was it thirty? - lifting bales and other heavy objects.

during this period i had a great deal of time to think about things, but did not make such great use of it as i might have.

when my period of enlistment was over, i wandered back down to the docks. i decided to become a beggar. i prospered at this trade for a few years.

one day a uniformed official informed me that the city had been ceded to another country or empire and that under their laws i could 'no longer simply beg on the streets, but that i might continue to solicit money as long as i was a “street performer”.

i purchased a small bear and taught it to “dance”. while the bear danced i recited epic poems which i had composed in my head during the long years in the warehouse and sitting in the street with my paper cup. in this way i got along for another ten years or so.

the bear, whom i had christened bismarck, never stopped growing and this proved a problem. eventually we could not make enough to feed both of us, so we parted ways.

i decided to explore the interior of the continent of c————, on whose shore i had spent so many years.

part two