Author Archives: kirbytheog

About kirbytheog

I was born in 1952, worked in the newsbiz for 40 years or so. The last time I checked, I was not dead yet.

Ninth Life

Ninth Life

© 2013 Kirby Sanders

Petting the cat on her lap, she looked me square in the eyes and said “You know — this is your ninth life.”

The cat purred as I said “Can I go home now?”

The cat leapt onto the table and walked toward me — briefly rubbing its side on the large candle.

“Not yet,” she said. “You have not finished.”

“What if I don’t want to finish?” I exclaimed. “What if I just want to go home?”

“Sorry, pal. It doesn’t work that way. But when you do go home, you probably will not come back.”

The cat jumped onto my lap and I swear it smiled.

“At least that gives me something to look forward to,” I said.

The cat jumped to the floor and walked to the door — as did I. It seemed to bow as I walked outside.

The dawn, per normal for the city, was a muddy gray light as I walked home. The cat walked with me for several paces — to the foot of the bridge and then turned to go home. We smiled at one another, knowing that we had shared the final moments of our ninth lives.

I felt confused as I approached the foot of the bridge. An odd disheveled and shrouded figure stood by a barrel fire and stepped in front of me as I went to step onto the bridge.

“Some homeless panhandler,” I thought to myself as I absent-mindedly reached a hand into my trouser pocket to see what coins might be lurking at the bottom.

“The bridge is closed,” said an ethereal feminine voice from beneath the shroud before me. “You may only cross if I guide you. Have you a coin?”

“Well,” I laughed, “that is as good a scam as I have heard in quite a while. What manner of coin would you like — penny, quarter or Krugerrand?”

“Any will do. You need only show it to me. You may give it to me when we reach the other side.”

“We will play the odds then,” I said, jingling the change in my pocket. I closed my fingers and extracted a quarter. “Will that suffice?” I asked as I showed the coin to the strange figure before me.

“It will suffice,” came the laconic, almost bored response. “It is the principle that counts.”

As we stepped onto the pavement of the bridge, it seemed to slightly shudder beneath my feet — a disconcerting feeling; uncertain and somewhat frightening.

“You do know,” said the mysterious shroud leading me, “if you pass this way you shall not be able to return.”

“So I have been told,” I said.

“Come along then.”

The shroud leading me seemed almost to float rather than walk. As we made our first several paces, the bridge did not seem much different than it had the several times that I had crossed it before — except for that damned shuddering and wiggling of the pavement beneath my feet.

“So,” I said — partly out of curiosity and partly to dispel some nervous energy, “what is your name, oh companion of mine?”

“Charon,” she said. We walked on without another word spoken.

As we approached the central arch of the bridge, the condition of the structure changed dramatically. It was decrepit. Side rails appeared to have collapsed into the river below. There were great holes in the pavement with only inches on the sides by which to pass safely onward. The dark and turbulent river swirled beneath us. The water seemed to moan as it coursed between the rocks below.

“Charon,” I said, “I have crossed this way before and never was it this decrepit. It looks as though it has been bombed.”

“Time changes things,” was the only response.

The central arch of the bridge was reasonably solid, but another strange sight presented itself. Small clots of people huddled on either side of the bridge — leaping, hurling themselves into the river below.

“My god, Charon,” I asked in shock and incredulity. “Why are they doing that?”

“Tired of waiting, I suppose,” came the disinterested response. “They refused to proffer a coin although they had many — nary a coin for themselves nor for others in need.”

“But is there nothing we can do for them?” I asked. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the small fist of coins that lurked there. “Will this help at least some of them?”

“Too late for that. They made their choices and now they must ‘live’ with them.”

We reached the arch of the bridge, passed through the small mob of wailing leaping souls, and I noticed a golden amber glow on the horizon ahead. The pavement stopped writhing and the way seemed clear.

“Almost there,” said Charon with nary a note of real interest in her voice.

As we crossed the pinnacle of the bridge, the golden amber glow resolved itself into a vision of the city itself. It was a balanced and beautiful sight; somehow welcoming and comforting. It seemed to offer warmth as a cold and misty breeze blew up from the moaning river.

At the far foot of the bridge was a gate and a bored policeman sitting at a bland utilitarian desk. He did not look up as we approached. Rather, he fixed his gaze upon a stack of papers as he tapped upon a keyboard. The computer monitor in front of him cast a slight yellow glow. The golden glow behind him obscured his features.

“Another one for you,” Charon announced to the officer as we stopped at the desk.

Without a glance away from his reports or keyboard, the officer replied, “Have you received your due?”

Charon turned a hooded face toward me. I opened my left hand to reveal the promised quarter. Unbeknownst, I had been gripping it so tightly that it left its imprint in the flesh of my palm. Charon’s gaunt fingers took the coin. I stared at the imprint in my hand — somehow bemused at the line that said “tsurT eW doG nI.”

“Yes,” said Charon. “I have received my due.”

“Very well then,” the officer replied.

With that and without a further word, Charon turned and walked away — back toward the other side of the bridge.

“Name, please?” the officer said to me.

“Herron, sir,” I replied. “Red Herron.”

As the policeman dug through his stack of reports, I took the opportunity to take his measure. He wore Sergeant stripes on his sleeve and his bronze nameplate was inscribed “Peters.”

“Ahh — here it is,” he said as he pulled a report from the stack of papers beside him. “Herron, Lawrence Michael aka ‘Red’ Herron. You are early.”

“I didn’t realize I was on a schedule,” I replied.

“No problem,” he replied. “Sometimes the computers and the reports are a bit delayed. Busy day today.”

As Peters puttered with papers and clacked on his computer, I glanced through the gate beyond him. Behind it was a large rather crowded plaza. The buildings and the paving stones all appeared to be various shades of white marble — Greco-Roman in design but for a scattering of classical Muslim, Oriental, Spanish and Hindu motifs. What looked like shops lined the perimeter of the plaza, every window emanating a soft golden glow as though the entire facility was lit by unflickering candles. The glow reflected off of the streets and the other buildings, which lent the entire area a warm and comforting atmosphere.

“Just about done,” Peters said as he purposefully punched the enter key on his keyboard. Three printers began to whirr in unison on a sideboard nearby. He gathered up the items from the printers.

“Alright then, Mr. Herron,” he said, finally looking up at me. “Just sign here.”

He handed me the three items that had had issued from the printers. The first appeared to be something like a passport, the second was a laminated name tag with a neck string and the third was a plastic credit-card type of thingy.

“Please keep these with you at all times,” he said with a smile. “The booklet is your official I.D. Please present it if requested. The name tag is your ‘quick pass.’ If you wear it easily visible, you will be less likely to asked for your full I.D. This plastic card will allow you to obtain whatever you might need by way of nourishment, clothing, lodging, etc. There is no ‘limit’ on it — unless you get greedy. Then — well — that is a whole different story. A story you do not want to become involved in.”

“Okay,” I said as I signed the form he had placed on the desk.

“For the moment,” said Peters, “you are restricted to the central plaza. I think you will find it pleasant enough. Someone else will come find you shortly and direct you to another location. Be patient. Word of advice — two blocks up on the left side of the square are the baths and the tailor. You might visit them first. You smell a bit — funky.”

“No sweat,” I said with a slight twinkle in my eye. “It has been a long day.”

Peters reached beneath his desk. A buzzer buzzed and the gate opened beyond. “Go on in,” Peters said, turning his eyes back to the stack of papers on his desk.

As I walked through the gate I heard his bored voice call out “Next! Next, please.”

As the gate closed behind me I stood for a moment — trying to get my bearings. The plaza was — a plaza. A square surrounded by a square with a great fountain at the center. At midpoint of each perimeter side was another gate leading — somewhere. As I stood somewhat bewildered, I felt something rub against my ankle. Looking down, I espied The Cat –- massaging itself and purring against my leg.

“Hello, little one,” I said, feeling somewhat conspicuous for talking to a cat in public. “What are you doing here?”

The cat nudged me toward the left side of the square, ran ahead a few paces, and then stared back at me as if to say “So — are you coming along or what?”

What the hell. I followed the cat. I didn’t have any better clue as to where I was going.

She (I don’t really know if the cat was a “she” — didn’t look that closely — I assumed she was a she by demeanor) was not all that remarkable. She was a just a little gray tabby with brown highlights and a white star on her forehead. Thinnish and lithe, she was just your all-purpose standard issue cat of a cat. She continued her run ahead and then looked back and waited as I wandered aimlessly taking in the glowing square. From time to time, announcements would be made from — somewhere. Three quiet chimes followed by “Arthur Pendleton, please meet your party at the west side of the fountain,” or “Angela Barnes, please meet your party at the east side of the fountain.” Stuff like that.

The cat stopped in front of a large building just ahead of me, looked back and meowed authoritatively. When I caught up with her I noticed a large engraving atop the stone portico at the front. It read, quite simply, “Baths.”

“Can’t say much for their branding,” I murmured to myself. “But at least I know where I am.”

The cat sat there licking herself; purring and raising her left front paw in a classic “kitty rampant” position.

Peters’ “funky” comment had made me a bit self-conscious, so I bumbled my way into the building. A handsome young woman sitting at a counter glanced up and stared straight at my chest. It made me somewhat uncomfortable, her staring that way.

“Ahhh, Mr. Herron,” she said. “Welcome. We were expecting you.”

Looking downward at my own chest, I noted the focal point of her stare. She wasn’t staring at my chest. She was reading my name tag. I moved up to the counter and she wrinkled her nose as she tapped on a computer keyboard.

“Yes,” she said, “it is good that you stopped here first. May I have your access card?”

Somewhat confused, I handed her the plastic credit-card thingy and she swiped it through a slot on the counter. A split second later, her computer chirped. She glanced at the monitor, smiled, and handed the card back to me.

“Thank you,” she said as she handed the card back to me. She gathered up a small stack of things that included a large towel, a white Egyptian flannel kaftan (both neatly folded and warm to the touch), a pair of soft sandals and a small basket of lotions, soap and shampoo.

“Room 23B, please,” she instructed. “Center hallway, about half way down. Leave your clothing by the door. Someone will be by to collect it. The robe and sandals are yours to keep. After your bath, you may wear them out or you can be fitted with a suit and shoes at the tailor next door. No one particularly cares which, really. Either way, they are yours to keep.”

“I would kind of prefer a suit,” I said. “It is what I am accustomed to.”

“Fine,” she replied. “I will notify the tailor to expect you. Do you have a color preference?”

“Gray,” I replied. “Charcoal gray — maybe with a thin navy pinstripe? White isn’t exactly my color.”

“The cat will have to stay out here. If you require assistance, there is a bell cord within easy reach next to the bath.”

The cat curled up on the counter next to the girl and continued her ablutions. The girl reached over and petted the cat gently. I made my way down the long hallway and found 23B. It was a pleasant tiled room, warm and slightly steamy with a low counter / bench all the way around — but for a gap wide enough to accommodate the door. At the far wall was a spacious bathtub filled with warm water. I set the basket by the tub, towel and kaftan nearby and doffed my clothes in a heap on the bench beside the door. The clothes did appear disheveled and dirty and, when I had undressed, I did notice an odor about myself that would properly be described as “funky” — at best.

I felt the temperature of the water and it was perfect. Just the way I like it, hot but not too hot. In the little basket I found a capacious washcloth and a bottle marked “Bath Oil – Frankincense & Myrrh.” I opened the bottle, poured it into the water, and the room filled with a pleasing, slightly sweet but “woody” aroma. The water became an orange-brown color like saffron. I eased myself into the tub and relaxed with a great sigh. I washed my hair with the small bottle of shampoo. More scent of the exotic spices wafted into the room. Soon I drifted off into a delightful state of torpor, interrupted after a time by a rapping on the door and a pleasant young man’s voice saying “Mr. Herron? I am here to collect your old clothing. Is this a convenient time?”

“Sure,” I replied without opening my eyes. “Why not.” I settled back into my delightful stupor as the young man came in and then went about his tasks.

Eventually, feeling satisfied and slightly wrinkly, I extracted myself from the tub, donned my robe and sandals, outfitted my “passport,” name tag and “access card” and made my way back down the hall.

When I reached the foyer, I noticed a line had formed at the counter. The young woman glanced in my direction and cheerily said “Mr. Herron. I hope your experience was pleasant. Tailor is just next door to the left. They are awaiting you.”

The cat jumped from the counter and joined me as the young woman continued tapping her keyboard, swiping cards and efficiently handing out stacks and baskets.

The tailor shop was pleasant but unremarkable. The suit they had made for me looked a lot like my old one — except that it fit better than the old “off-the-rack,” wasn’t as shiny and threadbare and didn’t smell funky. They also decked me in a new shirt, tie, belt, socks and boots and gave me a cloth shoulder bag for my kaftan and sandals. I wasn’t really comfortable with the girly shoulder bag, but I wore it anyway. When in Rome, eh?

“Food is available just up the block,” the tailor said as he sent us on our way.

“Just use your access card.”

Cat and I made our way up the street past a plethora of cafes and restaurants offering food and drink from every corner of the world. We glanced into several, but I wasn’t hungry. We did not stop at any. Cat did her usual deal; running ahead, looking back, meowing impatiently and switching her tail until I caught up.

Three soft chimes rang out from the unseen public address and the soft voice intoned “Herron? Mr. Red Herron. Please meet your party at the north side of the fountain.”

I didn’t know what party I might be expecting, but I made my to the north side of the square. It was filled with the delicious aroma from a vendor’s cart roasting chestnuts. I stopped and got a bunch — delivered in a crepe cone and lightly washed with a drizzle of Grand Marnier. Cat and I sat on a bench as I idly nibbled chestnuts and the cone.

Eventually, a uniformed man with a clipboard came by calling out “Herron? Mr. Red Herron?”

I acknowledged and he came up to me and sat beside me on the bench. He reached his hand to mine and introduced himself. “Lieutenant Michaels. Pleased to meet you.”

With barely a pause, Michaels continued, “We have reviewed your record. It was spotty at times, but you have access to the north sector of city. The boss made the final decision. Sorry for the delay. It required some discussion.”

“Okay,” I replied. “So what does that mean?” I popped the last chestnut into my mouth, chewed mindfully and somewhat skeptically.

“Well,” Michaels replied, “the north side is probably the best side. Closest to the boss. Just one thing — the cat will have to stay here.”

I finished off my crepe cone, looked at the cat and then back at Michaels.

“And what if I will not leave the cat?”

“You will both have to stay here.”

I thought for a moment and licked the last traces of Grand Marnier off of my fingers. The cat sat purring beside me.

“This is good enough,” I said. “The cat and I will stay here.”

“Right answer!” said Michaels with a beaming smile. “Come along, please.”

We three walked to the north gate. Michaels swiped his access card along a slot by the gate. The gate opened and we all stepped through.

Just as we entered the gate, a breeze blew up and the cat was obscured in a swirl of dust. The cloud of dust grew upward like smoke and suddenly I thought I saw an occluded image of Charon. Then the dusty smoke subsided.

Before me stood Angela, tall and lithe with her streaming red hair -– and just that little bit of tummy that I remembered so well. My dearest Angela whom I had buried ten years previously and ever since mourned.

“Welcome to heaven,” Michaels said as he flipped through the papers on his clipboard.

Angela gazed into my eyes and said “It’s about damned time.”

Just Another Day At The Office

Just Another Day At the Office

©2013 Kirby Sanders

When I woke up, the smell of coffee, bacon and eggs was wafting up from the kitchen downstairs. As usual, Maria was making sure I was fueled for my day at the office. It dawned on me once gain that I was a lucky man to have married a good woman like Maria. I was pretty grateful for that. I also noticed she had set out one of my nicer gray suits, a crisp white Hathaway shirt and a silk tie –- but I didn’t wear those. Instead, I put on a pair of dungarees and a rough work shirt and went downstairs.

When I walked into the kitchen, Maria asked, “How come you’re not wearing that nice grey suit I put out?”

“Johnny came by last night after you and the kids went upstairs,” I replied. “Apparently we are working one of the warehouses today rather than the office. He said to ‘wear grubbies’ because there might be some dirty work. Are the kids off to school?”

“Of course they are. It’s Thursday –- a school day.”

“You are a good woman, Maria. Sometimes I wonder if I deserve you,” I said.

“You just keep thinking that way,” she said with a smile as she set my breakfast on the kitchen table. “I’ll make you up a lunch …”

“Never mind that. Johnny said we might be working through lunch and grabbing a late bite at the Circus Café.”

“Less work for me,” she said as she kissed me on the cheek.

As I shoveled in the scrambled eggs and coffee, I thought about Johnny’s visit the evening before. Johnny was a good guy. He wasn’t exactly my boss, but I knew that when he came by with a message about work it came straight from the boss. I guess it was about eight last night when he rapped on the door. I slid open the peep and gawked out real quick to see who was there. Sometimes the neighborhood is kind of rough, so I always have a gander before I open the door. I guess he saw the peep slide open.

“Hey, Craftsman!” he said immediately. “It’s the Bug. Got some word from the boss for ya.”

Now, you have to understand, I work with a bunch of really good fellows. Always joking and cutting up – except when it is time to really get down to business. Everybody has nicknames for each other. Everybody calls me “Craftsman” because I know all the tools upside down and inside out. Johnny is really named Gianni Bugatti and they say he is some sort of cousins with the car guy in Europe. Not close enough to be rich –- seconds or thirds maybe. So anyway, we all call him Johnny the Bug.

“Boss says don’t come in to the office tomorrow,” Johnny explained. “There’s some kind of mess with some trucks and merchandise at one of the places in Lincoln Park. Wear grubbies and an expendable overcoat because it might be messy work … and bring your big hammer.”

“So what’s the deal?” I replied.

“Don’t know for sure. Boss says Crazy Charlie will be in charge and he’ll meet us there. I’m to pick you up at ten, drive us out to the warehouse with the tools, we clean up the mess and drive a couple trucks to another warehouse down south. Says he’ll have us suits at the place down south and we can clean up there then go back to the office at the Lexington.”

“Kind of mysterioso,” I said “but whatever –- a job’s a job.”

What neither Johnny nor I said was that neither of us particularly cared for Crazy Charlie —  Carlo Patronella, but sometimes he used the name Charlie Patterson because he thought it sounded “more American.” Carlo was too excitable. He had a tendency to go off half-cocked and make a real mess of things. Messes that me and the Bug very often had to clean up. But I guess the boss had his reasons for putting Charlie in charge.

So come ten o’clock, I gathered up my tool kit and met Johnny out at the curb in font of my building. He was driving a ’27 Caddy that I didn’t recognize, but I figured it was a company car I hadn’t seen before. He, too ,was wearing basic dungarees, a pretty non-descript trench coat and a cap –- same as I was.

Johnny drove us to a place at 2122 North Clark and parked across the street. As we got out of the car, I noticed from the case that he retrieved from the trunk of the car that he had brought his big hammer as well. As we loped across the street to the front door of the building I didn’t take much note of it. Just that I knew it was ours and thought it was a trucking company rather than a warehouse. But there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t know and didn’t need to know about the overall business.

When we walked in the door, it was obvious that something had already gone south –- well, gone north, actually. At the north end of a big garage was two cops with shotguns holding seven guys at bay against a brick wall. Funny part was, these guys weren’t our company guys. I kind of recognized a couple of them. They were North Side guys. And most of them weren’t drivers or mechanics or truckers or warehouse guys. Most of them were suits duded up in their business best.

One of the cops turned toward me and Johnny the Bug and hollered “Welcome to the party, gentlemen. You guys just bring those cases and come on up here with us.”

When the cop turned, I realized he wasn’t a cop. I knew from that gap-toothed grin that it was Crazy Charlie dressed up like a cop. Boss had said Charlie was in charge, so Johnny and I did as we were told.
“You boys get your tools and get ready to go to work,” Charlie said.

The seven guys against the wall were obviously sweating bullets as Johnny and I got ready to go to work. Charlie turned his shotgun back to the bunch. A minute or so later, Charlie announced, “Time to start the party. Everybody dance!”

He blasted the guy on the furthest right of the wall square in the chest with twelve gauge double-ought buck. The other “cop” did the same to the guy on the far left.
“Don’t be party-poopers, boys,” Charlie said to me and Johnny. “Help us with the song.”

Johnny and I racked our Thompson autos and started spraying left to right, right to left. The guys on the wall crumpled and the blood flowed like spilled wine. It only took a moment or so and then everything was quiet –- except for some damned dog howling and whining from somewhere up by the door. Charlie spotted it tied to the front bumper of one of the trucks. He came up with another Thompson from somewhere and started spraying. He missed the dog, but shot hell out of the trucks.

“Damn it, Charlie!” Johnny yelled. “How are we supposed to drive these trucks out now that they’re shot to hell?”

“Change of plans,” Crazy Charlie said. “Give Burt the gats and make like you are under arrest.”

Johnny and I shot each other uncomfortable glances, but did as we were told. Charlie was in charge. We handed our Thompsons to the other “cop,” raised our hands and Charlie marched us out the front door like we was under arrest. He walked us across to the Caddy we had brought, put Johnny at the wheel and me at shotgun –- with himself in the back seat still training the real shotgun on us. “Officer Burt” apparently made for the back door with our tools in tow.

A small crowd was starting to gather on Clark Street –- watching the valiant policeman arrest the violent gangsters –- and the damned dog kept howling back inside the building. Sirens started screaming in the distance from everywhere the ear could hear.

“Drive, Johnny,” said Charlie. “Keep your hands on the steering wheel where I can see them. You know the place –- Chandlers’ Service warehouse. Down on Rhodes and 32 by the  31st Street harbor. Then we will go back to the Lexington.”

“I thought we were going to meet the boss at the Circus in Elmwood,” Johnny said as he pulled Caddy away from the curb and put some distance between us and the carnage at 2122 North Clark.

“Change of plans,” said Charlie as he lowered the shotgun and set it on the back seat.

Johnny drove us to the warehouse on Rhodes and sure enough there were perfectly fitted suits waiting for me and Johnny and Charlie. An old black janitor gathered up the bag containing our discarded clothes and popped the parcel into an incinerator that was cranked up and cooking. We ditched the Caddy and picked up a sharp new DeSoto. Charlie made a phone call from the office. We couldn’t hear all of it, but it was pretty obvious Charlie was talking to the boss.

“Yes, sir,” he said. “No sir. It got a bit complicated. No sir. Yes, sir – a change of plans. No sir, I don’t like changes either, sir. Candy store? The florist. Yes sir. Not a problem.”
Charlie was ashen when he came out of the office. He told us we had one hour to get to the Lexington and meet the boss –- but we also had to drive out to Cicero on the way for four big boxes of chocolates and four bouquets of flowers from a couple of the boss’s favorite shops.

Charlie crabbed all the way to Cicero about being “better than an errand boy,” but Johnny and I just tried to stay cool. We could give a damn about chocolates and flowers –- unless they were intended to be parting gifts for our soon-to-be widows.

We gathered up the goodies and backtracked to the Lexington Hotel. We announced ourselves at the desk for our meeting with the boss. The clerk called up to the office and then he chilled our bones.

“Ten minutes, gentlemen,” he said. “Meet him in the basement.”

We must have been quite the sight — three burly guys in Brooks Brothers suits and fedoras parked on a couch in the hotel lobby with our arms full of flowers and huge boxes of chocolates.

Ten minutes later, there we were, our arms laden with flowers and chocolates in a sparse basement room for a meeting with the most powerful businessman in the country. The boss was seated in a wood desk chair behind a crappy little desk in the otherwise empty room. Two guys stood beside and slightly behind him and just sort of stared at us.

Addressing Charlie, the boss said. “I am not impressed. You made a mess of what should have been a simple task. I think you need a vacation in Detroit. There is a train out at seven p.m. Be on it.”

One of the guys by the boss handed Charlie an envelope. We all knew what was in it from having seen it before. All you had to say was a guy got “the one way ticket to Detroit” and everybody knew it was, at best, a disgrace. At worst it was a one way ticket to hell and the guy who got the ticket wouldn’t be around anymore.

Charlie set the boxes and bouquets he was holding on the crappy little desk, took his ticket and scuttled quick for the door. He vanished, leaving me and Johnny the Bug standing there still looking like flower girls at a wedding.

Turning to Johnny and I, the boss said, “Good soldiers as usual, gentlemen. Do you know what day it is?”

“Uh – Thursday,” I stammered.

“February 14,” he replied with a smile. “St. Valentine’s Day — a day to celebrate those whom we love and those who love us. Go home and give those gifts to your wives. With my compliments.”

I did not ask the boss why he needed two bouquets and two boxes of flowers.

When Johnny and I made it back up to the lobby of the Lexington, cabs were waiting to take us each home.

I made the ride quietly. The cabby was good with that. He was probably accustomed to fares from the Lexington having very little to say.

I walked into the door of our apartment and Maria was sitting the kids down for an afternoon snack of cookies and milk. When she spotted me with the flowers and chocolates, she nearly dropped her tray of cookies for the kids. She ran to my arms and hugged me like she would never let go.

“You remembered Valentine’s Day!” she said. “I am making you a favorite dinner. Have a glass of wine and relax a moment. You look tired. How was your day today?”
“Just another day at the office,” I replied. “Just another day at the office.”

A Famine of Festivals

A Famine of Festivals
©2013 Kirby Sanders

There lurks within us all a remnant of the American Innocent who loves our local festivals. Every town and county and community has them. Yes there are the archetypal County Fairs, but also we have our smaller versions — where communities themselves gather to celebrate the bounty that binds them.

The spring, summer and fall harvest and “hell let’s just have a party” weekends that towns arrange simply to recognize and celebrate themselves as communities. The Athens TX Black Eyed Pea Festival — the Gilroy CA Garlic Festival — the Sparta WI Butter Festival — the DeKalb IL Cornfest — The Pella IA Tulip Festival — the Hatch NM Chile Festival. Even mammoth Houston TX has its high-profile remnant in the Livestock Show and Rodeo. Fort Worth has its Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering. I think Dallas has an annual Visit Your Money in the Bank day — or something like that.

Heritage Days, Pioneer Days, Stagecoach Days, Railroad Days — events where the community gathers to recognize who they are, why they are and what makes them a community. One people bound together in some small way or another.

Even the generic small college town springfests are fun and quaint in their own way — spring break for the kids too broke to expose themselves in Cancun with their demurely naughty bed races and bar hops along “the strip” leading into the campus.

We all know how the festival days go. Mom says “don’t get those new britches and dresses dirty.” Dad gripes because old man Johnson wants five bucks to park in his yard. The town square is packed with people. The twirlers twirl and the marching band plays. Blue and red and white ribbons festoon the favorite homemade pies and preserves and the Queen of The Whatever waves from her perch on the boot of a snazzy convertible. Local musicians play and cloggers clog and folklorico dancers swirl atop stages that are really flatbed truck trailers. Carnies shill games and rides on a carnival midway. Politicos make some boring speeches, the bank and the churches hands out free pencils and everyone runs off to see what treasures the local vendors have to offer.

These are the only places in the world where you can sample jalapeno ice cream or blackeyed-pea pie. The places where your first memories of the exotic and the unusual reside. Where Oddly Ollie the clown (whom everyone knows is really the creepy coach) performs and entertains or frightens small children.

Sometimes these community festivals celebrate only memories. There is one wonderful Grape Fest in a town that hasn’t produced a single grape in better than 50 years. Another with a Pickle Fest in a former company town where the pickle factory shut down in 1952. But it doesn’t really matter — the festival is the festival. Grapes are grapes and pickles are delicious and those are what made those towns into towns.

But there is a growing blight in the crop, creating a famine for our festivals. Corporate sponsorship.

What brings this to immediate light is a recent situation in Johnson County, Arkansas. Their annual Peach Festival is coming up — but local growers have been banned from selling or sharing their crops at the festival. A certain “largest retailer in the world” has sponsored the festival — and announced that they will supply all the peaches. Local producers not allowed to show or sell. The local producers are up in arms — but banned and helpless.

The twirlers will twirl and the marching band will play. The Johnson County Peach Queen will wave and smile from her perch on the boot of a snazzy convertible. The community will be judiciously directed past the cleanup on aisle five and Muzak will fill the gleeful air. Blue and red and white ribbons will festoon the coolers containing frozen pies by Marie Callender, Sara Lee and Paula Deen.

The producers whom the festival celebrates will be relegated to their truck stands on the outskirts of town. Hoping to snag an occasional wayward consumer away from the corporate orgy.

What lovely memories are we leaving to our children?

A Quiet Conversation

This piece is (admittedly) about a year old. It was published in the anthology “Biohazard 2012” by BeanPods Press of Roswell GA. Offered as incentive Is my contribution
***

A Quiet Conversation ©2012 Kirby Sanders

Originally published in the anthology Biohazard 2012 via BeanPods Press, Roswell GA

Just after sundown of a November eve –- south of Blackburg. The road through the woods hereabouts gets real close when the sun goes down. Seems like the trees come walking closer to the road and huddle together against the chill.
And a decided chill there was–but an odd chill. Couldn’t tell if it was coming from outside or inside, but I wrote it off as being November in Blackburg. Either way, it was time to find some shelter and build a fire. Take some rest for the night.
There’s a small overhang in the bluff over there–trees bunched real tight at the mouth, blocking the north wind. It’s been a long time since I slept with any roof over my head. That little cave in the escarpment looks pretty inviting.
Fine as the Breathitt House in Atlanta! But this ground has been tramped hard–and I declare that looks like a campfire ring. I’ll be switched. That looks like another fellow in the shadow by the far wall.
Hello the camp! Do you mind if I share your fine accommodation to get myself out of the biter wind? I’d be obliged. Looks like your campfire has gone cold. Let me refresh it and get us a cheery fire to warm our bones.
I take it that your silence is assent.
Gathering firewood, I notice there is abundance at the mouth of the cave. Odd to be so much so near to an occupied place. Perhaps this unfriendly wind is obliging us one small kindness–shaking down dead branches for our fire pit. No matter. In short order we have a presentable flame comforting the enclosure, although it casts no light into my companion’s shadow.
Thank you again, friend. My name’s Pierce. I run –- well ran–Pierce’s hardware in Greenbrier. Down by Fort Smith. I notice my companion has made no move to accept the business card in my outstretched hand and look at the paper dumbly. Stupid thing for a man to be carrying anymore. Since the sickness, there ain’t no Pierce’s Hardware. No Greenbrier either and damned little of Fort Smith, for that matter. I cast the card into the fire.
I’ve been traveling for the last several weeks since the sickness took hold. They say a college girl brought it into Greenbrier. Ellen Jacoby. She come home ill from Georgia State. They say the sickness started from Atlana. Something brought in by a traveler, maybe. Any which way, Ellen took sick and then her momma took sick. Soon enough the sickness was marching through town with a vengeance.
Bodies everywhere. And they were burning the houses to try to stop the spread of the disease. Soon enough, our town looked like hell to me.
My wife took sick first in our house. Mary was a good woman. Kindly. Doc said she probably got the sickness taking food to the Jacoby’s for their grieving — nothing he could do. Nothing anyone could do. First son Ambrose took sick second. He volunteered for the burning crew. Probably got the sickness from one of the infected houses. Or from his momma. Then Anna, then Alton.
I‘ve got their pictures here. But I suspect you don’t care to see them.

Eventually, I was the last one standing. No undertaker would touch my family. Cemetery wouldn’t take them. Buried them in the back yard with my own hands.
I never got too sick. Kept the Hardware open. Folks needed shovels (lots of shovels). They wanted hammers and nails to tighten up the houses–but it didn’t do any good. After a while, I was damned giving stuff away. Nobody had any money. Nothing left to trade. I couldn’t get fresh stock in from anywhere. Time came the shelves were empty and there weren’t any more customers. I shut it down. Not enough town left to warrant my staying. So I left.
But I guess my story ain’t much different than yours, friend. Tell me if you want me to quit telling. I’ve got a can of beans here. I’ll warm them up and set you some over there by your side of the fire.
My companion remained silent.
I passed through Fort Smith. A few folks had occupied the old fort. But they made it very clear that they didn’t want any new friends. Drove my car as far as I could until it ran out of gas. Took another car from a farmhouse after that. I don’t reckon I stole the car. Obvious the folks in the farmhouse were never going to need it again.
I took to scavenging canned goods from the houses I passed by. Didn’t want to hunt game or fish. Figured the animals might have the disease too–but the canned stuff was probably o.k. Didn’t get sick, anyway.
It’s been many a mile and many a day since then. All of the towns I’ve passed through where there was folks alive is very much like Fort Smith. They aren’t taking in strangers, so I just keep moving on. Never thought I’d go from being a comfortable merchant to wanderer in the wasteland.
The fire had warmed the cave to a comfortable state and a bellyful of hot beans was bringing on sleep.
Good night, friend. Thanks for indulging an old man’s story. I look forward to hearing your tale come morning.
Slept the sleep of the righteous until the golden dawn played its light into the little cave. The sunlight brightened my companion’s corner–and even weary eyes could tell he was dead. Very dead. Probably several weeks ago.
Gathering my things and moving on again, I bid my companion adieu.
See you again, my new-found friend–somewhere down the road, I am certain.

***

I invite you please to consider the anthology for your reading list and enjoy the other works by several co-contributors. Available in paperback, Kindle and B&N Nook formats. Contact publisher at http://www.beanpodspress.com/

Flight of the Felis Familiaris

The Flight of the Felis Familiarius

©2013, Kirby Sanders.

Have you ever noticed that there are never any cats on the bridge aboard ship in outer space movies? There’s a reason!



The Evil Alliance is pursuing and attacking our underdog heroes! The valiant Capitan Weit Leche Carton shouts “Get us out of here, helmsman — Burp Six!!!”

Helmsman Mr. Yohoo replies “Working on it, sir. Dammit cat, get off the control panel!”

Capitan continues “Ready weapons! I want plastic torpedos in tubes one and two. Fire on my mark in five, four, three …

Weapons officer – “Direct hit, sir! They are breaking off! We have disabled their nacelle cavity!”

Capitan Weit Leche Carton — “But … I didn’t say ‘fire.”’

Weapons officer: “Damned cat!”.

Capitan Carton – “Security! Mr. Dork! I want that cat off my bridge! Now!”

Mr. Dork, a hulking alien warrior looking dude who is oddly alluring in a Mandingo sort of way, approaches the Weapons Control panel. Cat leaps from control panel and runs across the room – hides under a console at the far wall. Mr. Dork pursues. Cat hisses from behind the panel as Mr. Dork attempts to get his arm into the small space.

Capitan Carton – “Mr. Dork! Status report?” I want that cat off my bridge!”

Mr. Dork – “I can’t reach him, sir. He is back behind the recalcitrance rectifier and the inanimate object.”

Capitan Carton – “Communications! Ms. OhHerWho! Get Commander Dada up here to retrieve his damned cat. Ensign YooHoo – assist Mr. Dork.”

Helmsman Mr. Yoohoo – “Not a good time sir. We seem to be taking a Delta Fawcett evasive maneuver pattern. I can’t control it, sir. I believe the cat has interfered with the inanimate object controls!!!”

Capitan Carton – “Stand your ground Mr. YooHoo. I didn’t order evasive maneuvers! Delta Fawcett? Which one is that?”

Mr.YooHoo – “It’s the pinwheel like nutcakes, I think we’re going to crash into the nearest moon ruse. The Kubiashi Moron maneuver developed by Capitan Quirk in the Grapes of Wrath of Cahn.”

Capitan Carton – “Ah yes, Cahn. The depraved guy from the studio exec’s office attempts to control the universe …”

Comm officer (Ms. OhHerWho; on shipwide intercom) – “Commander Dada! Commander Dada! Report to the bridge immediately. Capitan’s orders. Bring a can of catfood.”

As the ship spins out of control, an Evil Empire Firebird (circa 1967) decloaks off the starboard bow of the intrepid USS Entertainer (That’s the left front of the ship if you are facing forward from the rear of the ship – I think. I don’t remember.)

Gnarly looking Evil Empire captain – “Ooot de smook the dune niew?”

Gnarly looking Evil Empire helmsman – “Zoom wired sheet. Fosho! Delta Fawcett?”

Back on the bridge of the USS Entertainer. Commander Dada arrives on the bridge. He is  humanish looking android – pale and pasty, and his face looks like a collaboration between HP Lovecraft and Pablo Picasso. “Dada reporting as ordered, sir.”

Capitan Carton – “Get that damned cat of my bridge – and airlock the catbox in your quarters. The entire corridor stinks!”

Commander Dada joins Mr. Dork on the floor by the far wall and says comfortingly “Spot! Spot! Out, out, damned Spot!” as he sets a can of replicated Hot Tuna on the floor. The Hot Tuna immediately begins playing the song “Uncle Sam Blues” and wafting a fishy aroma through the bridge.

Capitan Carton “I do love those classical tropes.”

Spot complies and comes to Commander Dada.

Mr. YooHoo – “Capitan, we are out of freefall. But I’m not sure where we are. It looks like the dog star – Sirius.”

Mr. Dada carries Spot toward his quarters, but pauses at Mr. YooHoo’s station.

Commander Dada (to YooHoo) – “The tail formation is too long and the ears of the twin nebulae are too pointed. Surely it can’t be Sirius.”

Mr. Yoohoo – “It looks like Sirius. And don’t call me …”

Capitan Carton – “Mr. YooHoo! Clsssical tropes only or stand down on report! Ms. OhHerWho – report from the away team we left on the surface?”

Ms. OhHerWho – “Three redshirts down. One gold shirt asking to beam aboard. Communications are erratic and the enemy’s Ronald RayGuns are disrupting transporters.”

Commander Dada departs to quarters and sets Spot in the sitting area. Per orders, he gathers up the catbox. He re-opens the door (ssshhhh-whoosh) and dumps the catbox into the nearest disposal airlock.

Cut to viewscreen of the Evil Empire ‘67 Firebird. Suddenly, the viewscreen is obscured – blinded – by a collection of grit and adhesive brown semi-solids.

Gnarly Evil Empire Captain – “Woot the smook bedat!??

Gnarly Evil Empire helmansman – “Censors innicate keetsheet, Sir!”

Gnarly Evil Empire Captain – “Keetsheet? In spece? Prepusto ye indigesto!”

Gnarly Evil Empire helmansman – “Postdigesto, zeer. Unable to klir screen or censors. Offensive to both nacelle cavities! Loosing pwer – both nacelle cavities.”

Gnarly Evil Empire Captain  –  “Evad! Evad! Retour to Emiire.”

The Firebird veers off pursuit and recloaks.

Back on the USS Entertainer bridge.

Mr. YooHoo – “Second Emire ship breaking pursuit. Course 50167392586.pi. I have no idea where they re going. Very erratic flight pattern, but it appears they are headed for the neutered zone.”

Capitan Carton – “Looks like a miracle got us out of the box. Make it go, Mr. YooHoo.”

Ms. YeahHerWho – “Gold shirt away reports all redshirts vaporized. Requesting immediate transport back to ship.”

Back at Commander Dada’s quarters. Commander opens door to return empty catbox. As door ssssh-whooshes open, Spot races out the door and down the corridor to transporter room. Commander Dada chases. Door closes and secures as Spot runs in. Open comlink hears desperate Goldshirt begging for immediate extraction. Communication broken and spotty.

Goldshirt – “Unidentified interference. Sudden atmospheric rain of grit and viscous brown matter. Beam up immediate, please!”

Spot smacks a paw on a button on the transporter panel. “Meow! Meow! Rrewr Rrewr! Purr Purr.”

Goldshirt – “Unable to comprehend transmission. Garbled. Please resend via universal translator. Please – hurry. Environment toxic.”

Spot smacks a paw on another button on the transporter panel. Repeat transmission – “Meow! Meow! Rrewr Rrewr! Purr Purr.”

Goldshirt – “Received and acknowledged via translator. Thank you, thank you, thank you. One to beam up, Mr. Spot.”

Capitan Carton, Mr. Dork, Commander Dada and Dr. Waverley Wafer burst through the door as an exhausted Goldshirt materializes on the transporter pad. Dr. Wafer rushes to the inert man. Spot jumps off the  transporter console and into Commander Dada’s awaiting arms.

Capitan Carton – “Mr. Dada. I want that cat confined to your quarters hereafter.”

Commander Dada – “Yes sir. Immediately sir.”

Capitan Carton – “Contact the bridge. Tell them to make it go!”

Spot – “Meow! Meow! Rrewr Rrewr! Purr Purr.”

Alone Aloft

Alone Aloft
© 2013 – Kirby Sanders

Alone,
aloft,
beyond the fray.

Unafraid of life
or death —
the wind blows this way,
the tide pulls that way.
A balloon untethered
wishing for a string.

It is deliciously bland
up here.
Nothing but hues of blue
and white.

The adventure is in looking down
at the brown
of decay —
nasty stains of exploitation
and the crimson blood
that so enamors humanity.

I want none of that.
I want to sing with the lightning
and dance to the music of thunder.
To be the balloon untethered
sailing for my brief moment
in the beautiful blue bland.
Knowing that when I burst
I become a part
of that beautiful big blue bland.

Alone
Aloft
Unafraid
Untethered.

Free.