The Waiting

December is upon us as I wait

for spring to begin (it might come late).

Winter is nigh, as I dig in,

waiting for summer to come and begin.

The year is closing as I start this day,

hoping for change, trying to make a play.

December is upon us, and I never knew

the full strength of the sun

in July and June.

The Finds

The sight ahead drew Bruce out of his inner world and back to reality. It could be an ambush.

Damn it. It’d been a good day (part of a good week) till now. Decent weather (upper sixties, and the wind and rain had passed), and no smoke.

Copping a squat, he considered the pile ahead. It resembled a human in clothes. He’d been walking down here to avoid humans. Zombies and survivors…neither were usually good company. He wasn’t much as ambush prey. Did have a gun (two, actually), some rounds, food (mostly energy bars, nuts, and dried fruit), a little water. Not substantial quantities.

Ravine walls thick with grasses, bushes, and brambles rose on two sides. Yeah, perfect place to take the easily beguiled.

The pile wasn’t moving.

Sighing, he put away the trail mix he’d been munching to free his hands, pulled the handgun out, and cursed. He was off the roads and highways because he was non-confrontational, didn’t have many rounds, and wasn’t a great marksman. He also wasn’t a good Samaritan. Heaving heavy sighs, he shifted his backpack and crept forward.

The pile didn’t move. A wind decided to add mischief to the leaves and bushes. He hoped to hell it was the wind, and not someone getting ready to get him.

Yeah, the pile was a human, female in jeans with a torn light blue shirt and jacket, non-zombie, but probably not alive. Blonde. White. Brown eyes were staring, and all that blood. Maybe forty or fifty years old, or somewhere in that zone. Not dead long. No animals had visited. Only touching her could tell him more.

He gazed up. She’d probably fallen from above. Pushed? Why would anyone be up there? What was up there?

With slow awareness, he realized something was not far from him. Pulse shifting to a faster speed, he turned and stood.

Dog.

The animal (a lab? — he didn’t know these things) regarded him, tail down. It looked decently healthy and had a collar and tags. No pack was around, although that didn’t stop his guts from nervously squalling.

“Nice puppy.” His voice caught on a rasp. Been how long since he’d last spoken?

The dog flicked the tail once or twice and turned away, but kept looking back.

Follow? Really?

Bruce tapped his foot in his head, debating choices, uncomfortable with where the dog might lead him. The dog seemed patient, insistent, and intelligent.

“Okay, Lassie.” He walked after the dog. “Lead on.” He’d shoot the dog first if it led him to a trap. Well, that would depend, wouldn’t it?

The dog disappeared past some trees. Bruce took his time following. Rounding the trunks, he hunkered down and peeked around them like a child playing a game.

A man was on the ground. The dog was beside him, looking back at Bruce.

Man, woman, and dog, Bruce thought, putting things together. No ambush. He moved forward.

The man moved. A gun was in his hand but he didn’t raise it. A noise between sigh and grunt, word and pain, oozed free of him.

Bruce approached. “Hello.”

The man opened and closed his eyes, then opened and closed his mouth, adam’s apple jerking. A canteen was at hand. Bruce approached it, saw it open, and picked it up. It sloshed. Bending, he wet the man’s lips. “Hey. Hey.” He didn’t know what else to say.

From the pale, wan face, thin silver hair, and sunken cheeks, Bruce guessed him seventy something. The clothes told of some wealth (as did that watch).

The man responded to the water. Bruce trickled a little into the man’s mouth. “Thank you,” the man said. He closed his eyes. They snapped back open. “My wife. Carrie. She…”

“Blonde white woman, about forty to fifty, wearing jeans?” Like there could be anyone else. “I think I found her.”

The man’s expression shifted through hope to understanding. “Okay. Okay.” Tears threaded out of his eyes and down the sides of his face. “This is the way. I fell. Down the side. She was trying.” Eyes closing, he shook his head. “Doesn’t matter.”

Bruce wondered. Where could he take him? What could he do? “Where are you hurt?” Could he get help? “What…” He swallowed. “What can I do?”

“Nothing.” The man smiled. “No use. Back. Legs. Insides. I’m a mass of hurt. Oh, well, it was good until now. Can you…”

“What?”

The man marshalled himself. “Bring her here? That possible?”

Bruce shuddered inside. He should just walk the fuck away. He should have never come over. He breathed out. “Okay. Okay. Sure.”

Hating the decision and himself for what he was doing, he tucked his gun into his pants took off his backpack. Retracing the way, he found the woman again. First, well, check. Yes, dead.

Trembles rolled through him. He hated touching the dead. Yeah, it didn’t make sense, but that’s how he was.

Realizations caught. She was still a little warm and pliant. Jesus, she could not have been dead long. He wondered what’d killed her. There was a lot of blood.

Bile rose. He didn’t want to get blood on himself.

Really? How fucking pathetic was he? He didn’t want to just drag her, either. That seemed just…wrong.

After sucking in three breaths, he squared himself, bent, and picked her up. She was so light, he almost sagged in amazement. Poor person, to die out here like this. That was the world but it didn’t make things any better.

He carried her back with no problem. The dog greeted him.

“That’s Jasper,” the man said. “Thank you for doing this. Now. Put her. Here. Beside me. Please.” As Bruce did, the man smiled. “Thank you. Thank you.”

Tears were storming down his face. “Okay, two other things, but I’ll reward you,” the man said.

Bruce knew what was coming. “Wait. What’s your name? I’m Bruce.”

“Bruce, I am Jerome. Thank you again, for what you’ve done. Now, if you can do more…”

Bruce knew what was coming. “I don’t know.” He glanced at Jasper. “Won’t your dog object?”

“Oh, I talked to Jasper while you were away getting Carrie. He understands it, probably better than us. Just aim at the chest, you know? I don’t know if I can be saved or not, but I figure, a world without Carrie isn’t where I want to be, not the way it’s turned to shit.” His voice was thinning. Jerome coughed, then pursed his lips for several seconds. “You can have my air yacht in return.”

“Your what?”

“Up the top of the hill. It’s yours. Take it. Live, survive.”

“Okay.” What the the hell was an air yacht?

“And if you can, well, find my children. Son and daughter. They don’t speak with me. Didn’t care for Carrie. Were angry, which made me angry. In hindsight, which is all that’s left, it’s stupid of me and them. We all thought there was more time, but here we are.”

Jerome cleared his throat. “I’m asking a lot. The list just keeps growing. Kill me. Take care of Jasper. Find my son and daughter, Gerald and Jeanine. Their locations are in the yacht’s computer. That’ll give you guidance. It’s up to you, but I’d like it if you can find them, tell them what happened to me and Carrie, so they know.” He settled his gaze on Bruce. “I know I put a lot on you. You can promise anything, of course, and then do whatever you want. I understand that. The air yacht’s loaded with food and drink. It’s comfortable and secure.”

“I never heard of an air yacht. How will I fly it?”

“Oh, it flies itself. It’s at the top of this bluff. I think you can get up there. Fob is in my pocket. Opens all the doors, and turns everything on. It’s yours, Bruce. Just finish the job here, and take care of Jasper, please. He’s a good dog.”

Shadows were claiming the ravine by the time Bruce complied with Jerome’s request. Afterward, the dog went to the man, sniffing him and licking his face for a bit before turning away and joining Bruce. The dog’s humanity impressed Bruce.

He took the fob, along with Jerome’s watch and gun, all with regret. Then, speaking to himself as much as the dog, he squared himself and looked up. “How the hell are we supposed to get up there?”

Jasper responded like he knew. Heading for a path, he paused, looking back and waiting for Bruce to follow. Bruce tucked Jerome’s gun into his pack and swung it up onto his shoulders. Another long look was granted to the dead man and his spouse. He considered burying them.

He’d already buried so many, he was weary of it. Did that change anything? No, but he had nothing to dig with. “I’m sorry, Jerome. I really am.”

Life sucked enormously, yet it seemed like his was looking up. “Lead on, Jasper,” he said, then began following the dog up the side.

The End

The world won’t end in a whimper,

and not with a bang,

and probably not with fire and ice.

It’ll end with them shouting, “You lie,”

and others shouting back,

oblivious to the death and dying,

that’s rendering life a wreck.

Ignorant

Unheeding of what they thought or humans tried to do, the skunk removed the board with her powerful front legs and went back under the house. A robin changed positions, looking for a meal.

Indifferent to changing clocks, pending elections, economies, and pandemics, nature shifted gears, changing colors and striking down leaves and blooms in the northern climes, and refreshening and enlivening the landscape south of the equator.

Oblivious to watching eyes, hopes and despairs, and lies and promises, the sun rose, and the stars shone, and the moon reflected on it all.

All of nature and physics remained ignorant of the human worries and events, as though they were a drop in the bucket, a blink of an eye, or a mote floating through the firmaments, and not the end and beginning of everything.

The wind, as he thought about it, sighed, and went on.

To Begin

A knock came on the door.

During these COVID-19 times, knocks (or the doorbell) are always a freezing moment. Eighty percent of the time at my house, it’s a delivery person leaving something on the porch. That other twenty is divided by neighbors and friends, depending on local events and who’s in town. Our friends like traveling and have the money to do it.

My wife and I froze with the standard who-can-that-be wonder in our expressions. I recovered first, saying, “Who’s that? It’s ten o’clock at night.” I was thinking, I didn’t hear a car, and I was thinking, it must be an emergency, and I was looking at the clock to confirm the time (and discovering that it was actually almost ten thirty) (time to take my pills), and also thinking, where are the cats (because something may have happened to them). My mind is a busy place when the unexpected arrives. Finding the remote, I paused Endeavour on PBS on Prime.

My wife, though, said, “Go see who it is. I’m in my jammies. It must be important. Look out first.”

Annoyance fluttered through me as I went to the door. As if I wouldn’t look out first. Who in America doesn’t look out first, except in television shows and movies? Well, and sometimes novels.

As I navigated the way, I saw one cat watching, the rear end of another heading for cover somewhere, and the third doing a prairie dog impression on the sofa. They were all in and safe, so…?

I flicked on the light and looked out through the side glass (and wondered if I should have a phone in my hand (in case I needed to call the police), or a weapon). (Like, what weapon? A knife? I’m not a knife fighter. Where is my baseball bat? Did I give it away? Maybe I should get a frying pan.)

I didn’t see anyone on the porch, and no box or delivery (not even flowers), but then, someone was there. Not large, but bearded, dressed in green. I gasped as recognition vaulted through me.

It was a fucking leprechaun.

“Who is it?” my wife called from the den’s safety.

I didn’t answer. I didn’t know how. The leprechaun looked up at me and winked. I jumped back. “What the fuck.”

It had to be a joke. It wasn’t Halloween yet. What kind of joke was this?

Swallowing hard, my throat tightening and drying, I pushed one cat back with a foot, informing him, “Stay back, damn it,” and thought again about weapons. Then, screwing up manly courage, I opened the door.

A cold wind blew in, chilling me through. A shake began in my abdomen and rippled through my body.

The leprechaun was smiling and holding up an envelope. The envelope looked like it could have a bill. Maybe that’s all it was. Maybe it was just mispitched mail. Could this be one of our neighbors? I don’t think I’d ever seen a leprechaun in the neighborhood…

“Michael?” the leprechaun said. “Yeah, I know it’s you. Saying your name is but a formality.” His Irish accent was like Chris O’Dowd unfiltered, strangely heavy for one who didn’t have much mass to them.

“Number one, because people always ask, yes, I am a leprechaun. I won’t ask you to let me in. I know the time. Not a good time in your mind, but it’s the best time for us to come. We used to just break into people’s houses at night, but we lost a few of our people that way, especially in this century in America, if you see my meaning, leading to a policy change. But we don’t go around in the daytime, if you see what I mean. Little folk running around always draw attention, people making jokes about pots of gold, being stoned, and Lucky Charms cereal.” He fluttered the envelope at me. “This is for you. It’ll explain matters but you need to take it, open it, and read it. Do you understand?”

Meowing, the cat tried to get out to check out the leprechaun. Pushing the cat back with a foot, I nodded.

A smile lifted the leprechaun’s expression. “I’d appreciate it if you can give me a verbal response for the records and also take the envelope. They have your results.”

“My results?”

“From your 23 and Me DNA test. You’re part leprechaun, lad.”

“What?”

“Your DNA shows that you’re part leprechaun, Michael. Congratulations.”

“What?”

“I know it’s a lot to comprehend. Take the envelope, open it up, read it, and you’ll understand. The documents include our website and a passcode to let you in.”

I’m a leprechaun, my brain was saying, but the words kept just going around and around, like a music box in my head. I’m a leprechaun, I’m a leprechaun. I think it was playing a plinking little tune, too.

“The envelope, please,” the leprechaun said with less patience. “Do you mind? I’m on a schedule.”

I took the envelope.

“Again, do you understand? Say the words.”

“I understand,” I said.

“Good. Thank you.” Smiling and nodding, the leprechaun bowed. “I’ll see you later.” He disappeared.

“Who is it?” my wife called.

I closed the door. The moment was so 2020. “I don’t know where to begin.”

The Boomtown Floofs

The Boomtown Floofs (floofinition) – Irish floof rock (flock) group formed in Flooflin in 1975, active until 1986. The group was named after a group of children in Floofy Guthrie’s autobiography.

In use: “The Boomtown Floofs song, “Looking After Floof (Number 1)”, was the first floof wave song to be performed on Top of the Floofs.”

One Human

My name is not Max, the cat said. 

The humans didn’t hear him, as he expected.  They didn’t speak mindspeak, twittering like, well, frustrated birds or herds of exasperated animals.

Across the room, the other cat looked at him and asked, What is your name, again?

Horatio, Horatio answered again although he knew the other was teasing him.

The other’s cat name was Cicero but the people who cared for him called him Wally.

What difference does it make?  Cicero asked.

You tell me, Wally, Horatio replied.

Glowering at him, Cicero jumped up with a mew and ran off.

That is the problem, Horatio thought.  It wasn’t that Max was a moniker encumbered with staid and unimaginative connotations and expectations and ladened with boredom, it was that humans refused to learn.  Their blind misunderstanding of the world and how it operates was growing.  If they didn’t change their course of thinking, they would move away from the ability to learn.

It wasn’t always so.  He’d last lived with Bob until Bob had decided to accept Death’s invitation and move on to the next plain.  Bob had understood mindspeak with some rudimentary ability.  Humans had misunderstood his skill’s significance.  They called him a cat whisperer.  He laughed at that, knowing that he heard other animals besides cats and sometimes understood pieces of what the trees said.  He knew his mindspeak’s skills and limitations but he was trying.  Most humans never tried until Death spoke to them with mindspeak.  They heard her well enough, but that was partly because Death and her tribe of speakers were wonderfully talented and persistent.

It vexed Horatio and the rest that humans couldn’t hear more of them, couldn’t grasp what the winds said and the trees’ answered.  Tthe oceans and seas talked and all the humans did was breath in the air without understanding the words, dismissing the waves when they broke and roared with frustration.  They looked up at the sun and moon without hearing what they said.  They dismissed the rivers, creeks and streams’ discussions, hearing only their travel.  The birds, oldest, most patient and intelligent, always attempted to communicate with the humans via mindspeak, then sang and chattered at them when the humans failed responding.  Humans often answered with condescending comments like, “What a lovely song,” then, knowing they had the human’s attention, would address them with mindspeak again, only to be ignored.

The birds were patient.  That’s why they were the world’s teachers and much more philosophical about it than he, Horatio.  Indeed, Horatio knew, he was more passionate about forcing humans into using mindspeak because he saw how disconnected they were becoming from the world’s conversations.  The birds saw it, too, but told Horatio, It is their own failing and if they don’t change and learn, they’ll become like the dinosaurs and volcanos.

Very true, Horatio knew.  Most animals didn’t care.  They were resigned to the humans never understanding and fell back on the Old Words, barking, meowing, mooing and howling. Horatio tried avoiding doing so.

“Max,” Brian called again.  “Where are you, buddy?  It’s time for your pill.”

Indeed, Horatio thought.  Brian was well-meaning but Horatio longed to make him understand that this pill did naught for his health and was actually interfering with the healing process.  But he’d come to Brian after Bob moved on because sometimes, in the night, he heard Brian whispering mindspeak and sometimes, when Horatio said something in mindspeak to Brian, Brian looked at him and said, “What is it, buddy?  Why are you looking at me like that?” No, no, Horatio replied.  Use your mindspeak and answer me.

Brian never did but Horatio held out hope.

Talk to him, Horatio, Bob said from his other life plain.  Don’t give up.  I knew mindspeak as a child but then unlearned it before I learned it again.  I never would have learned it if Devenus had not taken the time to teach me.  Brian is just like me.  Talk to him, Horatio.  Help Brian understand.

You’re right, Bob, Horatio answered, accepting that Bob was absolutely right.  If the humans were to learn at all, it would be one human at a time.  I’m in here, Brian, Horatio said in mindspeak.  I’m in your office in your chair.

He heard Brian’s thumping heavy walk come down the hall.  Brian’s head popped around the door jamb.  He looked right at Horatio in the chair by the desk.  “There are you, Max,” Brian said with a broad smile.

Clearly Brian had heard him without knowing.  Sighing, Horatio stood and stretched.  Yes, Brian had promise.  If he was going to develop further, though, Horatio would need to work with him.  He’d need to build a rapport and use the birds’ patience.

Yes, here I am, he said, jumping down and walking to Brian, adding, “Meow,” knowing it pleasured Brian.  Give me the pill even though I know it’s useless.  I will take it without a fight, to make you happy.  Then I will teach you.

Let your lessons begin.

Un

As I expected, the sun finished setting in the east, drawing light down into itself.

So appearances would inform you, if you saw it. From my short and unhappy survey (leading question: “What the hell is going on?”), I knew that none around me (which was just one person, my spouse) professed to see what I saw. You can call it (as I did, trying to elaborate to her) an eastern sunset, but I knew it was the sunrise going backward.

That’s the expression that drew a brisk, dismissive head shake from my wife when I uttered it. Then she executed the ‘I’m-going-to-avoid-the-crazy’ scurry. Except, she walked backwards and did it before I spoke.

Let’s back up (ha, ha, yeah).

Yesterday morning, in our home office, still on pandemic sheltering, I’d noticed things. Temperatures were falling; my wife undressed from her exercise class and returned to her nightwear. The cat walked to his kibble bowl and dropped food from mouth to bowl, and then walked out backwards. “What the hell?”

The computer’s clock was reversing, as was my Fitbit. Breaking news comments vanished from FB, and then the news went away.

I put pieces together through tests. The day was progressing backwards. I could speak correctly and be understood when I was in the same room with my wife. But everything I heard when she wasn’t around was backwards. People and cars went backwards, as did birds, cats and dogs, and squirrels. I couldn’t shout, “Look, look,” and point things out to her. That cause and effect wasn’t working.

Terrified, helplessly, I ‘un-ate’ my oatmeal and un-made my breakfast.

Need I tell you about my toilet experiences?

It was a long, long night.

Then I got up from going to bed, sucked up my spit and toothpaste, and experienced once more the revulsion of un-urinating. Finishing, I spied a man in my bathroom mirror.

I would say that I shit myself, but that’s no longer how life functioned.

Whirling, I gawked at this tall, pale man in a green bathrobe with blue pinstripes. Clean-shaven, his black hair sprang in every direction. One hand held a glass mug with, I guessed, had beer in it, from its sudsy amber effervescence. The other hand was in his robe pocket.

“Oh, there you are, finally.” Putting his mug down on the bathroom counter, he glanced about and pulled a revolted look. “Jesus, the bathroom, are you kidding? Why couldn’t you have been asleep?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Un. Sorry about my attire but we don’t need to dress. I usually don’t, so consider yourself fortunate. I had company over and dressed for them.”

Stunned and silent, I stared at him. Dozens of questions and comments exercised my brain but none found the exit.

Looking at me, Un said, “You’re gonna attract flies. Close your mouth. Now, my name is Un. I’m here to fix you. People have something called chronoceptors. You’re a people so you have them. They’re teeny, tiny things, small as atoms. They’re part of your nervous system. Sometimes they get inflamed and stop working right, which screws with your time flow perception.”

Un had produced a white and blue stick and looked at it as he talked to me. On my end, I said, “What?” I wasn’t giving a good representation of myself.

Un said, “It’s not that uncommon. We usually catch it immediately, but sometimes we miss it. Usually, when we do, the afflicted go nuts or kill themselves. Call yourself lucky, cause that didn’t happen to you.”

“What?”

Un jabbed the white and blue thing into me. As I yelped and attempted to jump back, he cackled. “This is going to sting.”

It was stinging to the point that I was about to scream. Everything felt like it was on fire.

Then it stopped and I was alone, well, alone except for my cat. He was standing at the door, gazing at me. I was dripping sweat, but that’s all that I noticed about myself.

Did it really happen?

I don’t know.

I admit, though, I felt very relieved when I took a normal pee.

Obit

It began with my obituary. 

Everyone googles themselves, right? Filling the gap between what you should be doing and thinking about what to have for dinner. Games have been played, work postponed, and the news is another blunt instrument on your head. So, idly, you type in your name.

My name, Michael Seidel, is bitterly common, bitterly because that makes it forgetful, except for the weather guy, what’s his name (see what I did there?). Google returned pages of Michael Seidel in their vaunted search results. Most were dead, except for real estate agents.

“Get more granular, dummy.” I played with search parameters. City, state, birthday.

Obit, obit, obit.

“Fuck.” What did the net know about me? My lust had to be sated. All that turned up, though, were obituaries. With some vinegar, I clicked on one to address the question, who is this imposter?

There was my photo and details.

I’d died the day before.

Car accident.

“Malware.” Had to be. Some new variation on ransom ware, doxxing, or cat fishing.

Loud rapping on the front door burst my concentration and triggered a sphincter clench. I hadn’t heard a car, I wasn’t expecting a package or a person, and visitors were as rare as snow in summer in this age of COVID-19.

Screw it; I wasn’t answering the door.

Then was standing in the office door, looking in at me, me all the way from the disheveled, thinning, graying, fleeing fucking hair, navy shirt, beige shorts and clothes that I now wore.

Sweat ran down his flushed face and neck. He was panting. “Come on, let’s go.”

The natural retorts skittered through my head without reaching my lips because ‘I’ dashed across the room and peered out the window. “The shadows are coming.”

 

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