SepSceneWriMo #18

He stank and he knew it.

His first words, when I pulled to the side of the two-lane that ran from Lyons east through Greeley, were an apology. “I can ride in the back. I ain’t had a good wash for some time.”

I waved him in and he gently lowered his pack-like-a-tinker’s-trade into the bed of my pickup. The saddle-tone satchel had been festooned, yeah, that’s best word for it, festooned with bangles and dangles and every type of touristy kitsch you could imagine.

And, yeah, he did stink. But, not like like rotten meat or a Benghazi bath, body order as a badge of honor. This was more like camp-smoke and musk, wholesome yet pungent.

“Where ya headed?” I asked as he closed and hugged the door, trying, I imagined, to keep from fouling the vehicle.

“That way, as far as you’ll take me.”

“So, east with no particular destination. Cool.”

We both rode in silence for a time. I opened the air vents a tad and he watched my hands manipulate the controls.

“Sorry about the smell.” He cracked the window an inch which introduced an annoying whistle.

“It’s either up all the way or down all the way with pickup windows.” The whistle pinched shut when he rolled it back up. “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I never did hitchhike much, but I admire your independent streak.”

“Yeah. I’m independent alright.”

I let that hang in the air, thinking he might finish the thought. But that was not the invitation he was looking for.

I asked him, “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have any weed on you?” I pulled open the sliding ashtray to reveal a small wooden pipe and a Bic lighter. I lifted the pipe and wiggled it, empty.

“It’s May now, right?”

I nodded. What did the month of the year have to do with anything?

“I won’t be in that phase until at least July.”

Okay… “So, what phase are you in now?”

“Retro Venus Shockwave, I think.” He held up both hands, nails too long and dirty, and began to bend them—counting. “Gonna be some heavy pressure on the magnetosphere until then.” He dug into his cargo pants pocket and retrieved a compass which he flipped open and held level. “It’s already started. Yup. I recon we’re gonna see some sights tonight.”

I scratched my head and leaned an elbow on the door, shifted my ass, grown numb with the ride, and asked, “What kinda sights?”

He told me.

Speaking as if he’d practiced, he spoke of experiences I found hard to believe. Of electric and emotional connections to things and people both earthly and cosmically distant. He became impassioned with the telling, so much so, that I felt compelled to grant him a smidgen of maniacal credibility. In the end I found I’d ceased shaking my head.

He talked until I mentioned my need to head north to Sheridan at the next intersection. He thanked me a dozen times for the ride, fetched and shouldered his bedazzled pack, and gave me a salute as I eased forward, stopped at the flashing red light and turned left.

Behind me, I watched him cross the road and park himself, thumb raised, headed east.

My truck still stank of him, and I opened the windows and vents wide. After a while the smell of the prairie flushed out the smokey, earthy smell and I closed all the windows—the sun had set and the air had taken a chill.

“Will you look at that,” I said to no one, thinking I still had company. In the moonless sky I marveled at the sight of bands of pink and green lights that wavered above me. Vast, thousand-mile-long ribbons of aurora twisted and writhed their lustrous tails. I imagined I could hear them groaning as they moved.

Enraptured, I was unprepared when my truck quit, just like that. I coasted to the shoulder and nothing I could do would let me start it up again. I noticed that I seemed to be alone out in the desolation of southern Wyoming. Not a light anywhere, except for those above.

“Well, shit. I guess we’re all in Retro Venus Shockwave now.”

Writer’s Log: 2311

Coming up for air was a mistake. I should have stayed submerged, chipping away at my rock of fiction, my own way, my own tools. But the shimmering mirror above drew me to break the surface and gaze about. Toxic reasoning, broken ideologies, plain wrong thinking found me struggling in the froth at the top. Best to sink back down and return to rooting among the muck and sludge that is my domain.

But isn’t it the affectation of all creators to seek affirmation of their work?

Are there truly artists in the world who work solely for the work? The painters and sculptors and potters who toil away in their hidy-holes, furiously producing piece after piece? Producing with nary a thought as to their creation’s effectiveness, impact, or value?

Perhaps those types of art differ from lexical art like writing & songs. Why communicate through words (the foundation of a society) if those words might never be read or heard by another human? Music? I think music might be somewhere in between.

All artists no doubt suffer the burden of mediocrity in concert with self-doubt. Word artists seem unique, however, in their suffering. Failing to communicate through a communication medium must be the ultimate of failure.

Thoughts?

If y’all are about sick of this daily barrage of content from me, worry not, September will come to an end soon and so too this flurry of activity.

SepSceneWriMo #17

“I can only sit for an hour today.”

Gaella flung her clothing over the tri-fold screen, an Asian hand-me-down with long green blades of grass and skeletal cranes stepping through marsh. I watched the shadow of her, her flowing curves and angles. I could see her select the period clothing I’d provided for this portrait. They would be loose but would reflect the mood I sought to evoke, extravagant wealth awash in famine.

“I’ll take what I can get.” I pointed to a set of false stairs. They would be my model of ancient, plague-stricken Athens, the temple steps of Athena Nike. “There’s a goblet, if you could… Yes, that’s it. You can rest it on your knee.”

Gaella draped herself drunkenly across the wooden stairs. I grabbed my spray bottle. “It’s just water. I need you to look as if you’ve just struggled through an illness.” She nodded and I pumped the trigger misting her face, chest and legs. The skin of her dark thighs glistened as if due to exercise, or stress.

She shivered at the touch of the spray and spoke through her face mask, still attached. “Why is it so cold in here?”

I’d set the thermostat to seventy-eight. I’d rather sweat than hear their complaints. “Cold? Have you been feeling this way for a while?”

“What are you insinuate…” She unhooked an ear. “Damn, masks. I’ve been careful. I don’t want this cursed disease. I’ve even sent my housemaid away. My home is filthy, now.”

I’d gotten used to my own, home-made cotton mask, a Gaughan printed colorfully across the smile. “Of course not. I’m sorry.” The trouble with models—neurosis strolled hand-in-hand with beauty.

She couldn’t get comfortable. I arranged a few stained pillows and still she squirmed. The piece was earmarked for a pharmaceutical’s marketing plan, that is, if I could get it finished. Gaella’s fame and notoriety were to elicit empathy, no, not empathy, sympathy maybe, for the corrupt corporation that had theoretically suffered at the hands…

“Gawd! I’m burning up, now.” Gaella stripped off the robe and mask and started spraying herself, strutting around naked, Athena herself, brazen and indifferent to the mortal who sat waiting for her tirade to end.

“Perhaps, you should see a doctor.”

“Can you please turn the fucking heat down?”

She faced the bottle and squeezed a cloud of mist that detonated against her face.

“Do that again.” I grabbed my camera and maneuvered to position her between me and the setting sun that had drifted into the remnants of smoke from a fire that burned a hundred miles away.

“Do what again?” She spread her arms, the bottle in one hand, a question in the other. Christ, she was beautiful.

“Spray your face, throw the bottle down and surrender to the moisture embracing your heat.”

Gaella cocked a hip. “You get this right, I want my cut.”

“Yeah, yeah, just do it.”

She did.

SepSceneWriMo #16

On the stone walls, hoarfrost spread like white fungus. Griselda’s breath caused it to grow, not melting until March or April in some years. She would stand near the slate-grey rock and mist the surface, watching the crystals expand, miniature star bursts within her dim quarters.

With a fingernail, the only part of her kept clean, less to sully the queen’s mending, she would scrape designs into the ice-covered surface. The array of geometric whimsy would stun even the boorish guards whose job it was to keep her safe. Griselda was, after all, the best seamstress in the kingdom.

She flicked the grimy, frozen mold from her finger tip. “Safe from all but my own wicked thoughts.” And devious cleverness.

“Griselda, collect your witchcraft contrivances, the Queen requires a new gown for Lord Rhelmsly’s commencement.” Derkin, Griselda’s least favorite of the King’s drooling guards, rapped with weak knuckles, she was certain he was foppish, and finished with, “And cover your person this time, damn you.”

“The sight of sinful flesh too much for your chaste mind, Derkin?” Griselda retrieved her basket, she was ever ready for work that would free her from this horrid prison, and made sure to lift her skirts, a flash of flawless pale calf glowed in the torchlight when the guard entered.

“Curses, girl. I told you to cover thyself.” He looked away while the Queen’s dress-maid danced through the doorway.

“Ankles can be so devilishly sensuous, isn’t that right, Dervy?”

“Please don’t…”

Griselda had had her fun and remained silent during the labyrinthine climb to her seamstress antechamber, one room removed from the Queen’s dressing room.

“You again?” The Queen’s foul mood snapped the curve from Griselda’s spine. “There were threads hanging like vines from the last gown you made for me. I told the king to be rid of you.”

Griselda’s lips, full and dry, begged to be licked, but she refrained from doing so. Nor did she glare her eyes nor flare her nostrils. Loose threads? More like loose bowels.

The Queen, plump to bulging, with thinning hair the color of dung, plucked at Griselda’s fraying chemise. “But I’m told you’re all there is. I need a new gown. Get to work.”

Griselda risked multiple glances about the room. “Pardon, my queen, the bolt of cloth?”

The Queen gestured feebly “It’s in the wardrobe, you silly girl.”

Griselda fetched the rich, crimson material, shot with silver and coal black silk and prepared a settee as her measuring station. From her basket she pulled a knotted string, and her pride and joy, a set of shears made by her father, well oiled and wrapped in a soft vellum sheet.

“There should be enough to make three fine gowns. But knowing you and your clumsiness, I’ll be lucky to get even one that’s worthy.”

Or just a bonnet to fit your fat head. “Yes, your grace,” Griselda said and set to work counting knots on the string pulled from armpit to palm, neck to kneecap. She marked the numbers on a stick figure she’d drawn in chalk on a plate-sized piece of slate.

“You’ll have this done by sundown in two days hence. Do you hear me?” The Queen had scarcely paid attention while Griselda ducked and stretched. But now that she looked down at the seamstresses basket and spied the slate image she fumed. “Thirty-nine at the waist? Liar! Do it again.”

“Sorry, ma’am, I mean, my queen. My mistake, twenty-nine is the correct count.”

“This may be the last dress you ever make, Griselda. You’d better live up to the rumors.”

Left alone, Griselda fingered the elegant cloth. Such extravagance was worth a lifetime of toil by a maid such as she. She unwound yards of it and wrapped it around her shoulders. Even the smell of it, mace and something deeper, spoke wealth and power. She held it to the window; so tightly woven as to pass no light. Her dungeon etchings came to mind, in particular, one shaped like a tall, thin diamond.

She called to the handmaids who tittered in the next room. “Willomina,” she said to one, “I have the Queen’s permission to request what I need from the King’s servants. You’re familiar with the huntsmen, are you not?”

Willomina blushed.

Griselda smiled. “Good. Now here is what I need…”

When the supplies were delivered, Griselda quickly fabricated a model of her diamond design. “Quit bickering you two,” she said to the queen’s handmaids. “You both need to master this technique.” Griselda had them practice until their fingers flickered like spider’s legs. “Good. Now be off, I need to finish. And not a word of this to the Queen.”

On the second evening, Griselda presented the finished gown. The Queen’s preoccupation with some scuttlebutt regarding Lady Rhelmsly and a stable boy, kept her attention away from the gown’s fitting.

“It’ll have to do, won’t it,” the Queen remarked in the polished bronze mirror.

The celebration commenced.

“Absolutely breathtaking, my Queen.” Lord Rhelmsly bowed to brush his lips to the queen’s wrist. As his eyes roamed the waves of blood-red material, exquisitely sewn so as to hide every seam, he noticed a regiment of circular disks which seem to march up the center of the queen’s dress. Still holding her hand he pulled her closer, his eyes focusing at the spot just below her breast.

“Ahem, my Lord.” Rhelmsly’s livery servant, there to provide names and hold refreshments, tried to interrupt the man’s fascination with the queen’s chest.

“What on earth are those?” the Lord said, straightening. He released the queen’s hand and politely gestured at the woman’s clothing. “Tiny coins appear to be holding your entire ensemble together, as it were.”

The Queen looked down and, for the first time, noticed the construction of the gown. She turned to her steward and ground her teeth. “Fetch Griselda, at once!”

The Queen and Lord Rhelmsly shifted to the corner of the ballroom. Griselda, being manhandled by Derkin, was ushered through a secret door.

“What is the meaning of these?” The Queen tapped the lacquered, antler-cut disks that ran like black, flat pearls up her dress.

Griselda, her chin high, knew her design was flawless. “They’re butt-ons, they butt through small slits to hold your clothing on.”

SepSceneWriMo #15

It’s been stalking us since we stepped off the dirt road from Tichlican and onto the obscure path that will lead us to the ruins surrounding the cenote, the pit, containing the bones. I’ve rarely been swayed by superstition, there was that time in the Andes, the wind, the altitude and the stories told by the shaman—all blending to fuck with the hard line I drew between reality and the other, but this was not one of them. I told myself this every time the sense of presence slithered up my back and gripped the nape of my neck.

“Weird place, ya, Ribbon?” Ribbon was my friend and guide, not just for this expedition, but for every one since the Greenland Caves. At the Caves, I’d been on my own.

“Weird? ‘Dis not estrano, not yet, anyway.” Miguel ‘Ree-bon’, in his floppy canvas hat, wide leather belt and calf-high military boots had, if his tequila fueled stories were any indication, seen weird shit in his day.

I resettled my pack, speared my machete through the foliage and lifted a curtain of prickly vines and insect-covered leaves out of the way. To my left a shuffling and blur pulled my head around. The slither started again. This time I got a sense of the size of the thing, like a portion of the jungle shifted as it moved. I pinched my eyes shut and looked again. Where I’d seen behemoth proportions only the Mandlebrot array of browns and greens, shadows and streaks of sunlight showed. “Geezus, Miguel, can we get there already?”

“Andrew de Leon, whatz you problemo? You seenin’ spirits? Dat Inca bruja been giving you blowjobs in the nighttime again?”

“That would be your sister, cabron.”

Ribbon had no sister. We were both one-offs and ever since our first illegal excursion, into a pair of Irish King’s Mounds, we’d connected like brothers.

Miguel barked a false laugh, moved to step over a fallen tree and froze. “Silencio,” he whispered.

The presence had returned. It loomed before us—a darker, heavier patch of forest. The means of its camouflage were evident this close to the monster;  leaves and sticks and dirt all ground into its hide, a mound of organic detritus, twice as tall as a man. I stared and tried to discover the outline of the thing. Each time I thought I’d found an edge, a movement, just outside, forced me to reimagine its breadth. The creature was huge. It breathed, in long, gradual exhalations that one could only witness now that it stood before us, a menace with unknown intent.

The sense of the thing, all during our hike, had heightened my anxiety such that now, standing within its circle of influence, I felt more at ease, as if evidence of its existence had given me conviction that I’d not wandered beyond some mental line in the sand. Such visions had haunted me before. Not all of them had resolved into physical manifestations.

We’d entered a standoff. A staring contest, if only we could identify its eyes. Miguel hadn’t shifted a muscle, but I was not so patient.

“Que deseas?” what do you want? I said.

Nothing.

I repeated the question. Ah, there are its eyes. They’d blinked when I’d spoken. They appeared buried in the canopy of its head. I imagined them to be of an evil shape, maligned and focused on our destruction. In prior encounters with vicious characters, animal and human, I would get a sense of the level of malice within their souls; was attack preordained or were there alternate strategies for escape? In this case, none of my empathic feelers tingled in the slightest. I was at a loss at how to proceed.

“VETE,” the brute rumbled, more earthly vibration than sound.

Shit. It want’s us to go.

Miguel, ever so slowly, backtracked his steps. As he reached me I risked a comment, “What is it?” He reached a hand back and urged me to retreat. When we’d extracted ourselves to what felt like a safe distance, and the outline of the giant had vanished in the foliage, my friend spoke.

“Tata Duende, the jungle spirit.” Miguel’s eyes remained fixed on where we thought the demon lingered. “Do not look away. Keep backing up.”

At the bar in Tichlican, after hours of retracing our steps, we toasted our third cervesa, ‘to surviving’.

I said after a long pull, “The ice has melted back even further from that valley in Greenland. Maybe we…”

“What? Hell no, cabron.” Ribbon swallowed and waved for a forth. “We passed the test. We’ve been chosen. We get blessed by a Mayan priest we head right back in. Bueno?”

I wiped the sweat from my brow and accepted the bedewed bottle from my friend. “Yeah, okay,” we clinked together, “bueno.”