Category Archives: Humour (Hopefully)

Shorts and essays, underwear and lingerie–no strike that. Just bits that might be funny …maybe.

Artist Statement

Apparently everyone who is in the creative arts should have an Artist Statement, much like organizations have vision statements and mission statements.

It is not goal-setting; this comes after that chore.

The idea is to keep you on track with your goal, add fire to your muse and motivate you to carry on when difficulties and obstacles arise, which they always do.

Re-reading your Artist Statement, polishing it, making sure your goal and path align what it states is  important. Sometimes we get lost in the morass and chaos of creation. We get so excited and interested in a new project or work we don’t realize that although we are on track with our goal, suddenly the path or the goal itself are slightly off-kilter from our Artist Statement, our vision.

This is not always a bad thing; often the Artist Statement is made in the early stages of the journey, and we don’t know what we don’t know … or our interests change as we grow.

Using myself as an example, when I set my goal to publish a novel in five years (not a lofty goal, I know, but one I thought I could manage), I was interested in writing suspense/horror thrillers like Stephen King or Dean Koontz. I had an idea in mind for a story and I jumped into it.

Thus, when I threw down my Artist Statement, it looked like this:

I want to write to explore the depths of my own psyche, to bring out previously unheeded or unwanted thoughts and ideas within others, and to set something down that will live beyond me.

I wish to speak of the life interrupted, the lightning shift of life events.

Over the last year or so, I have taken to writing stories and works in progress that are better served as crime fiction./thrillers along the lines of Lee Child.

So today I realized that, while my  Artist Statement still applied within the scope of what I was writing and my goal, it was not quite aligned with my current path. So I changed it to match my changed path to my unchanged goal.

I added one line:

I desire to excite the reader and myself with a plot-driven yet character-rich crime fiction novel.

I believe this incorporates what I am doing and how I want to feel about my work.

The Artist Statement is not meant to be shared with the world, as it opens the artist up to the laughter of loved ones, scorn of so-called friends and the onslaught of hordes of were-gypsies casting spells to steal your soul, but hey! I can always delete this later.

So …

What about you?

Do you have an artist statement?

If so, how is it looking today?

Does it align with your goal and the path you are on now?

Are you brave enough to share?

<steps back, laughs, shovels a heap of scorn onto your head, and morphs into a wolverine wearing a diklo and a gold necklace, chanting “tolle animam eius!”>.

No?

OK, <returns to simpering scribe>

No problem, you’re not supposed to, remember?

suck_it_wolverine_by_fonteart-d5efun6

Often Mystic

The Flash Fiction Challenge from Chuck Wendig this week was to write a horror story of 500 words or so framed as a spam email. I went over 500 and I would not say this is a horror story, although some might call it that. I call it …

Often Mystic

mystic

An ordinary day.

I’m at my ordinary desk in my ordinary home in front of my old computer.

I am bored.

My wife says that if a person is bored it’s because they are boring. I don’t think she likes me anymore.

I tell her I get bored because I know I am smarter than everyone else is, except maybe my oldest son, Isaac. He can run rings around me logically and intellectually. I don’t think Isaac likes me much either, come to think of it.

He’s all philosophical and atheistic and such, while I tend to the mystic. In fact, I am often mystic. I always say that instead of saying ‘optimistic’; I say, “Well, I am often mystic about that.”

People don’t get it. They don’t understand. That’s how I know I am smarter than they are.

Anyway, I digress, because this next thing was something exciting on an ordinary day.

I hear the Beep da-da boo-beep that means I have a new email. Most people don’t use the sound feature for their email alert anymore, but I like it. I like being informed before anyone else. I like being alerted.

I bring up the message and read:

Gracious felicitations Mr. Smith,
Pardon this intrusion into your busy life, but I am hoping you will be happy to receive this message, once understood.
First I must warn you that on what you would call Sunday, December 25th, 2024 at about 9:00 am, the world will witness an enormous bright light blossom in the sky, just a few degrees to the east of the star you call Polaris.
This magnificent light is actually the death of a billion suns in a distant galaxy.
Of course, this event happened long, long ago (from my perspective), however its repercussions have lingered and grown for thousands of years and are now coming to roost (I believe this is the correct expression) on your planet.
Not to worry. In advance of this awesome event unfolding before your eyes, our warp ships will arrive sometime next year. Naturally, I cannot give you the exact date. These ships merely serve as the advance scouts for the armada that will follow closely behind. I am proud to say that I am communicating with you from the flagship of the advance party.
It may seem strange to you that we have decided to focus on your little planet, especially when you have had no prior indication that there actually is anyone or anything else living ‘out there’ (or from my perspective, ‘out here’), but rest assured, your world has some—shall we say—bountiful attributes that are highly attractive.
It may be even harder still to believe that I have chosen you (yes you!) amongst all 7 billion souls on your planet for this one-time and very generous offer. Once more, you can be certain we have done our research and yes, you are indeed the right candidate.
Prepare yourself; the following is your fantastic opportunity:
We would like to bestow upon you the title of ‘People’s Representative Of The Primary Hump-Enzer Terraformers’. We, of course, being the aforementioned Primary Hump-Enzer Terraformers. With this lofty title come riches, power, land and whatever else you so desire.
Your duties will be simple: you will be the bearer of all communications between us—the looming armada—and the rest of humankind.
Oh, and you will also do everything we ask.
All that is needed for you to claim your prize is to sacrifice your first-born and transmit the resultant blood DNA to us for our study and … manipulation. You may easily accomplish this via your primitive microwave transmissions. Please do not worry; we will retrieve it in good time.
Once we arrive, we will make it known to mankind that you are the P.R.O.P.H-E.T and everything should proceed nicely from that point on … for you, especially.
Mr Smith, we look forward to working with you and eagerly anticipate your reply and subsequent … sacrificial donation.
Sincerely,
Gologon Orp Deru,
Captain, Advance Flag Ship
Primary Hump-Enzer Terraformers Fleet
Approaching Milky Way Galaxy (courtesy local terms of reference)
PS.
Should you not wish to receive this blessing and make the required sacrifice, you and all of your family and descendants will be passed over for any … well, for anything. And we will choose that nice-looking Asian gentleman down the street instead.

Hey, I know the Asian guy that Captain Deru is talking about.   I think his name is Gotma or something like that. Well, no way I’m letting him be the PR guy.

So … this is exciting, right? Well, I think so. In fact, I gotta say I am often mystic about this.

I don’t care if Cap got my name wrong, he can call me by my real name Abraham or Smith or any name he likes. I don’t care, especially from now on.

I call my wife, “Hey Sara, where’s that smarty-pants Isaac?”

I, Me, My, Mine, Myself

keep calm good life

For the most part I think of only myself. I spend time pondering on my daily activity, my comfort and my own problems. I worry about my own challenges, my health and, in short,  my life.

I have held out a faint hope that most other people operate the same manner, but I ruefully suspect that this is not the case. I have a sneaking suspicion that almost everyone else is a champion of one cause or another. This one goes to Africa on a regular basis, that one volunteers at the Food Bank, the other one enters at least two Rides for Cancer every year.

The list goes on.

I console myself with the fact that I send money every month to a behemoth NGO with the fly-covered face of a frightened child in Darfur. I pray that the child-scrawled letters and photographs I get back are not fake, all the while knowing deep down that the money actually spills into a regional pot with at least 10% taken off for administration and does not directly benefit the woebegone waif on my brochure.

slavery_map_africa

I can live with myself, I can deal with my rue, I can smother my suspicion … most days.

But … there are other days.

Like the day I hear about the university student who dumpster-dives in her ‘spare time’, then takes the food home and cooks fantastic hot meals to take the homeless on the Downtown East side of Vancouver.

dd ?!!!

sproutcupcakes-1024x884

Talk about making it hard on the rest of us! The nerve!

I confess my first thought in this regard is: “How can these people find the time to do this?”

My second thought is: “There must be something wrong with them.”

Naturally, my third thought is: “No, there must be something wrong with me.”

That’s when I look at my personalized Christmas card sent to me by the NGO with the encouragement to return it signed to my sponsored child and oh yes, “please send more money to Little Hussein so his family can buy a goat for his birthday”, and realize…. It just isn’t enough.

It is never enough.

I suspect that it’s never enough for the other wonderfully altruistic souls, either. In fact it might be what drives them. It’s like Oskar Schindler saying, “I could have gotten one more person … and I didn’t!”

More. Just one more. Always just one more.

old man1

No, my life is not altruistic, it is a selfish one. I can never measure up to the other saints of whom I write.

But we all have the one thing in common: no matter how much we can do or want to do, it will never be enough.

However little our contribution may be, it is something. And something is better than the alternative.

I think.  I guess. I hope.

 rockydd

Sucks to Be You

Chuck Wendig’s Friday challenge paid homage to the old infocomm text adventure games, where you were a character given things to carry and use on your adventure.

Now, there’s a Twitter account / bot that, if you tweet the word “inventory” to this particular Twitter bot — @YouAreCarrying — it will tweet back at you a randomized list of inventory items.

The challenge was to take all the items listed in the response tweet (your “inventory”) and use them all — in some way, oblique, abstract or overt — in a flash fiction of 2000 words max.

I got: You are carrying a cane, a clear potion, a cloud of orange smoke, a bloodstained paper towel, a battle-axe, floor wax, and a wet overcoat.

So here is my offering:

 Evil_Elf__by_blackwolf91901

Evil Elf by blackwolf91901 http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/332671808?view_mode=2

 

Quicksilver bent over with a grunt and picked up the bloodstained paper towel. His back creaked ominously as he straightened. “Blarky Trolls and their Death Nights,” he muttered as he stuffed the towel into his trundle and limped to the next stall. He pretended not to hear the faint rustle behind him as he pushed the gold metal brocaded door open and peered in.

“Crap!” He said.

“If only that were truly all it was!” The harsh growl came from behind him. Quicksilver swiveled his head completely around to see the ugliest Dwarf he had ever laid eyes on, carrying the most beautiful golden battleaxe ever to grace his Public Toiletry, standing close behind him. He held the battleaxe of a High Detector. It gleamed enticingly even in the dull phosphorescent glow of the washroom lights.

Quicksilver bowed as was protocol, but was also very difficult as his head was backward while his body still faced the silver-plated urinal. The effect was that the top of his pointed cap fell into the lap of the very dead Band-Shee who sat on the john, while Quicksilver’s eyes took in the gilded tiles of the ceiling.

The High Detector nodded and continued as if Quicksilver’s clumsiness had escaped his notice. “Do you recognize her?”

Quicksilver turned his torso around to align with his head and bowed again, this time with much more success. “Oh yes, High Detector, e’en with her ears split and her jaw cracked open and marrow sucked out as it is, I would recognize Dame Sax Paris Von Den Alpen Beard anywhere.”

He stepped aside and examined the body from the stall door, under the watchful eye and hovering battleaxe of the High Detector. The poor Band-Shee, whose large eyes remained a beautiful translucent chartreuse even in death, was slumped over, blue blood dripping from her truncated ears, lower head and lacerated lumpy torso. Her legs sprawled out wide in a mock invitation with both of her 3-toed feet nearly cut in half and resting in the ever widening pool of blue gore on the slate floor. She was naked, which was not unusual for a Band-Shee of Dame Sax’s popularity, but there was no sign of the toga-style coverings normally discarded in the course of a Band-Shee’s dalliances.

The High Detector waved his battle-axe in the shape of a cross at the urinal door. A cloud of orange smoke billowed from nowhere and descended around the body. The dwarf banged the hilt of the axe onto the slate floor, breaking a tile to Quicksilver’s chagrin, and exclaimed “Preservum Evidentiamus!” The body, blood, urinal and stall floor tiles all disappeared with a loud crack, followed by the smoke.

“Oy, ” said Quicksilver, “Bring back my toilet!”

The Dwarf chuckle-growled, “All will be returned to you once the case has been solved and the evidence is no longer required. Now … I must complete my examination back at the HQ and you can get on with your …hmmph … your day. What is your name—for the record—please?”

“Quicksilver Urinalelf.”

The High Detector produced a quill from his jerkin and wrote on a small wax tablet. “Did you kill the Dame?”

“Did you?” Quicksilver retorted.

The High Detector stiffened, but Quicksilver babbled on. “I mean you’ve got the big golden axe, don’t you. I never saw you come in, and who told you to come anyway? You were Johnny-on-the-spot right enough. Quite suspicious.”

“We got an anonymous psychalink five minutes ago. I transcended here as fast as I could. And here you are before I arrived and … I don’t have to explain anything…” the Dwarf flicked the battleaxe in Quicksilver’s general direction ” … to you. So answer the question—because you haven’t yet, have you—and now that I think about it … tell me what you are doing here tonight, to boot!”

“No, I did not kill Dame Sax Paris Von Den Alpen Beard. For your record I am here tonight doing what I have been doing ever since the Retromancer changed the Order of Things … cleaning and maintaining the urinals on the palace grounds.”

“Ah, there you see, you see” said the Detector Dwarf with just a hint of a smirk, “that is exactly why I must ask these questions of you, Quicksilver. There is plenty of motive to go around for the killing of those who now wield the power … and the magic.” He paused and ran his eyes lovingly up and down the length of his battleaxe. “For example, this beauteous instrument belonged to the previous High Detector: a Faerie, if I’m not mistaken.”

Quicksilver grunted, scratching a claw into a bony protuberance behind his left earlobe. “She’s a wastress now, in the Grand Inn. Name’s Flixy Foodfaerie.”

“A wastress, yes. How unfortunate. And you, what was your position pre-Reorder?”

“What’s that got to do with the dead Band-Shee?” Quicksilver studied the silvery scale that had flaked off onto his claw.

“Nothing whatsoever. Call it professional curiousity.” Although the Dwarf was a full three feet shorter than Quicksilver, he managed to project an impressively menacing presence. Perhaps it was the gleaming battle-axe—his badge of honour now—Quicksilver thought. He took a full minute to roll his trundle back to the maintenance cupboard of the washroom, feeling the watchful eye of the High Detector upon him the whole time.

“I … I was the Supreme Detector,” he admitted, as he took out a bottle of Resplendent Floor Wax and poured a quantity into a large bucket.

To his satisfaction, the dwarf nearly dropped his battle-axe. “Oh-ho!” he said beetling his massive eyebrows together. “This is a fine slither of toves!”

“Indeed. I—more than others, perhaps—have no love for the New Order. But, consider the modus operandi you have in front of you, High Detector.” Quicksilver took his bucket to the utility basin and pumped water into it to mix with the wax.

“Do please, enlighten me, Mr. Former Supreme Detector.” The Dwarf placed the battleaxe blade on the floor, put his hands over the shaft and rested his chin on his hands, smiling indulgently. His long black beard flowed down and brushed along the blade, and Quicksilver noticed the sharp edge had sliced off a few strands of hair. Losing bits of beard was bad luck for dwarves.

“Dame Von Alpen Beard had suffered the nasty atrocity of having her bone marrow sucked out, yes.” Quicksilver pulled a mop from the cupboard as he spoke.

“Yes, I saw that.”

“Well, far be it from me to point out that marrow sucking is not something an Elf would do, or a Faerie, or a Pixie or even a Man for that matter.”

“A Man might …”

“Fair enough, I’ll give you that. Still … sucking things is more of a Troll thing, or Trogs, Incubi … “

“Succubi …” The Dwarf chimed in.

“Thank you, obviously Succubi. Even Band-Shees themselves have been known to suck a thing or two.”

“Good point. Good point.” The High Detector nodded, banging his chin on the end of battleaxe. He straightened and hefted the weapon onto his shoulder.

“I thought so.” Quicksilver stuck his mop into the bucket and left it, went to the cupboard once more and retrieved a small glass bottle containing a clear potion, which he also poured into the bucket.

“What was that?” asked the Dwarf.

“Where?” said Quicksilver.

“What do you mean, where? There … in the bucket.” The High Detector pointed with his free hand. “You just poured something else into the bucket.”

“Oh that.” Quicksilver eyed the bucket as he walked by it on his way back to the cupboard. He noticed a faint tinge of blue gas spiraling out of the bucket and drifting towards the High Detector. The Dwarf didn’t notice; he was staring at Quicksilver with narrowing eyes. When the gas reached the Dwarf’s nose, Quicksilver spoke.

“Dwarf Hardener.”

The High Detector gasped in rage, which of course Quicksilver had anticipated. The hardened dwarf fell over, his golden battle-axe clanging to the floor beside him. He was not dead, just … rigid.

Quicksilver took an ornate cane from the maintenance cupboard and shifted it to his left hand. He had liberated the cane from a Troll the night before during one of their Death Night rituals when they weren’t paying attention, especially to a lowly urinal Elf. Next, he grabbed a large overcoat, soaked with blue blood.

“Tcch, I’ll have to get Flixy to clean that up.” Quicksilver shook his head at the thought. Flixy had enough to do without him adding his chores to the list. He slung the wet overcoat over his left arm while keeping the cane in his left hand.

“You were quite right about motive, dear High Detector.” Quicksilver said as he strolled towards the prone and solid Dwarf, whose eyes were wide, brows quivering in fear. “We do resent the New Order. We used to be the Kings and Queens of the realm, now we’re the guttersnipe’s you spit and piss on. Oh, I know, you occupied that position for so long that the Retromancer felt it was high time all you drudge beings got your due, but that makes the pain sting no less, does it.”

Quicksilver edged closer to the High Detector, pulling on the ornate head of the cane until with a snick it slithered out, revealing a long thin silver sword attached. The gas had paralyzed the Dwarf’s vocal cords, but Quicksilver could see the scream in his eyes.

“We no longer have magic, so I’m afraid I have to do this old-school, as it were. Knives, swords and such. Oh, and you were wrong about the modus operandi …” Quicksilver placed the point of the cane at the Dwarf’s right eyeball. “ … I gave myself permission to suck.”

He pushed on the cane. There was a brief second of resistance, then a pop.

Quicksilver waited a minute until he was sure the Head Detector was dead, then gathered up the battleaxe into his wet overcoat and limped out of the washroom, tapping his cane in a perky rhythm on the black slate tiles.

Signs of Things to Come

The most affecting place in my life has been Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona. One year I hiked—well it was more like breathily walked—up that 2700 feet elevation of humped hill the Phoenicians call a mountain.

camelback 1

I was fresh off a divorce, and I was at that place in the aftermath where I began to process events in my life as new beginnings. I had a sense of optimism towards a fresh start. I was looking for signs and omens, portents of a visceral change in my being, in my personage, in the essence of ‘me’.

In short, I hated the way I was and thought a new me might be the way to go.

That was one reason why I hiked Camelback. I had come to visit a friend who was working in Real Estate there. He was working on this particular day and we had planned some nightlife action for after his workday was over. We also had planned a road trip to Bryce and Zion Canyon for the weekend, so this morning and afternoon were mine to spend, waste or cherish.

I was enjoying the dry heat of the desert and had thought little of preparations; after all, I was in the best shape of my life thanks to the discipline of karate. Slowly I was regaining confidence. The vivisection of betrayal and sudden separation from a person whom I thought had loved me had effectively sliced that attribute from my personality, but the wound was scabbing over.

I set off, physically armed with ordinary running shoes, outdated shorts, an Orioles ball cap and a small bottle of water. Mentally, I was fortified by the New Age ideas to which I had recently subscribed—I thought they were true-isms at the time—thus was alert to any external manifestations of spiritual interventions, omens and signs.

I walked along the dusty concrete sidewalks, observing all the things of nature as they interacted with man’s presence. I hadn’t gone but a mile before I felt a nagging pain in my right foot like a small pebble had lodged under my arch. Every step caused ever-increasing stabs of pain. I pondered: had this occurred to make me focus on myself, on my own comfort by stopping and removing the stone? On the other hand, was it serving to help me see the value of overcoming small obstacles in the quest to the bigger goal, simply by leaving it in my shoe?

I stopped walking and looked down at my foot, to see that I had almost stepped on the squashed carcass of some sort of small snake. A faint odour of decay arose from its scaly desiccated body.

A sign?

I left the pebble in my shoe. Clearly, it existed to clarify the reality of life and death and pain.

Walking once more, I tried to take in my surroundings: the warm dry kiss of the wind, the buzz of insect life, the thirsty brown landscape, but it wasn’t long before all I could think about was the pain in my foot.

Far from helping me to focus my mind, to existentially reach for my goal, the stone simply became more irritating to me in this reality, to the point where I could only think of my next step.

Wait … was that the intent: one step at a time takes you to the end of your journey?

Satisfied that I had discovered the true meaning behind the pebble, I carried on until, soon limping heavily, I came to a small bridge over the Arizona canal. The canal was a concrete sluiceway the city had built for flood control—an unpleasant fact of life seemingly incongruent with the desert setting—and provided irrigation sources for the residential and commercial subdivisions that had sprung up. Here I rested with my arms folded over the blue steel railing and right foot up on the bottom rung, searching the brown water as it rushed fervently below the span in its own little journey of discovery.

The sun’s heat burned the back of my neck, so I turned the ball cap backwards to afford some protection. I hadn’t thought about using sunscreen. Where I lived in the Pacific Northwest rainforest climate, the sun never shone so intensely and there was plenty of shade from tall lush trees. Here, trees were short and more like brambly bushes. The only real shade was in the city itself where there were some taller buildings to provide angled shadows of relief. The sun was relentless, even in the late spring. During the summer, my friend told me, people did not spend much time outside unless it was at poolside.

I understood that now.

The mangled mass of a large dead bird floated into my view from beneath the bridge. I did not know what kind of bird it had been, but it was the size of a raven or bigger; perhaps, it had been an eagle. Its feathers were bedraggled and sticking up at all angles. The eyes were gone completely from above a hooked yellow beak. I watched it in silence as it caromed off a log—also caught in the maelstrom—and spun lazily into the distance.

Another omen?

I pondered. This carcass had once been a proud raptor, circling far above the earth, oblivious and uncaring of the humans scurrying frenetically below. This had been a king of the air. Now it was at the mercy of the river current. Now it was food for fish, crabs, eels, and whatever else lived in the waters, above which it had once soared. It had been high, now death had brought it down low.

I, too, had been master of my own little kingdom. At 25 years old, I had been in a loving relationship, fit and strong, both physically and mentally; ready to take on the world.  I had been soaring high in my own ego.

Now I was floating aimlessly at the mercy of the currents of life. Others had control over my life. My employers had plans for me, my friends had suggestions and my family had guidance. Traveling to Scottsdale had been the first proactive decision I had made since the separation.

I took a deep breath, and let it out slowly through my nose, as I had learned from self-hypnosis tapes, and tried to focus on nothing, clearing my mind. The images of the dead snake and the dead bird surfaced onto the empty black board I had set up in my imagination. Accompanying the images was a sentence written in mind-chalk: “There will be 3!”

I considered that for a minute.

Certainly, both good things and bad things could descend in 3’s according to all clichés and old wives tales as well as water cooler talk. However, did I really believe that? And of what significance was the fact that these things were dead animals? Did it mean that my former life was dead to me? That I was dead to my former wife? That the third dead thing would be me? Alternatively, was the pebble in my shoe the first of the three, instead of simply an irritant between two portents?

The cooling of the layer of sweat by an arid wind blowing in my face made me shiver unexpectedly. I mustered up a wry smile, chastising myself for being an over-thinking idiot. I decided that the hot breeze was actually welcome, and took a rejuvenating swig of water. Took my foot off the rung, bent over, undid my sneaker to shake out the annoying stone. Except that it wasn’t a rock or a pebble that rolled out of the shoe … it was a mung bean.

I had taken to sprouting my own vegetable seeds. Mung beans were a staple of Chinese food of which I was very fond. Perhaps not so surprising then, that one might fall unnoticed into my running shoe, and make the flight to Arizona with me. As delicious as the sprouts were, their mother bean in my shoe had been truly annoying. Plus, I had brought a non-native plant to Arizona. I was now a mung bean smuggler.

My search for meaning was devolving into farce.

I set off again, alternating between the discomfort of baking in the sun and the worship of its cleansing heat. I was increasingly thankful for my water, as dust clouds were churned up by passing cars and gusting wind, and my mouth dried out.

The base of Camelback mountain had plenty of warning signs for errant hikers and foolish tourists, of which I was both so I read them carefully, cognizant of the fact that it was too late to do anything about it, but fascinated with the idea of a mere hike turning into a death-defying feat.

I headed up the first incline.

Soon I was in one-foot-in-front-of-another mode—a Zen-like state came over me. My fevered brain spiraled down into three thoughts caught in a loop: Would I reach the top? Would I make it back down? Why had I done this?

There came a break; a flat section between two inclines, where a massive rock wall overhung the trail and afforded a shaded stone bench back from the fenced edge of the path. I sat, drank some water and stilled my rising fear by looking about me and noting minutiae: a tiny tumbleweed rolling across a scarred vermilion rock, a piece of molted snake skin, a black hole in a thorny green cactus.

The spectacular view over the valley distracted me.

camelback 2

I noticed the relative silence. There were few hikers at this time of the day. (Another of the warnings on the signs at the head of the trail had stated it was best not to hike in the afternoon hours.) The noise of the bustling humanity in the valley below dissipated long before it reached this height. In the desert, the perpetual hum you hear comes from the wind and animal life, not cars and electricity. The thrumming undercurrent vibrates with life.

I had sought to attain some sort of peace; in truth, I found it even more distracting to be amongst such beauty and energy. Would I have to go into a sensory deprivation chamber to find true peace and happiness?

Pushing myself up to continue my hike, I discovered that my inappropriate apparel choices had chafed my thighs, butt and ankles.

Ten minutes later, I hobbled onto another small plateau, surprisingly populated by larger bushes and thicker scrub. As I stopped to take a small swig of water, I froze as a healthy looking fox came into view, trotting up along a trail only it could see near the edge of the plateau.

The fox froze as soon as it became aware of my presence either by smell or by sight.

The tableau was set: a gray fox versus a very red human on the plateau of a mountain at high noon.

fox 1

The fox looked straight at me. I decided it was a male for some reason. He lowered his head, and then raised it back up. Then began a dance. Head down, then up. Down, up, repeat. Bobbing time and time again. As his reluctant partner, I stayed still, not wanting to scare him away, attempting to memorize every detail of his beauty.

Too small to be a coyote, the animal wore a light gray coat shot with ruddy fur highlights on his ears and neck. His long bushy tail, which was black-tipped and had a dark streak all along the top stood fully erect and curved like a sail behind him. The wind blew the tips of his fur back and forth in a gentle rhythmic unison, like closely planted wheat on a prairie. His furry ears pointed straight up when his head was at its zenith and laid down towards his back when his head was at its lowest. Bob up, sink down. Ears up, ears back.

I assumed he was reading the wind, catching all the scents and sounds, trying to determine if I was enemy or food.

I felt as cooked as food might be.

Apparently, the fox disagreed, as he whipped his tail down and trotted off, quite unconcerned.

Another sign?

Had the fox been sent as the second warning? Third warning? I had lost count of the portents. Should I count the dead things or only the live things? What did it mean that a fox had visited me? Many cultures knew the fox as a trickster. If someone outfoxed you, it meant she had outwitted you. Had I made wrong choices already … again? Should I be wary of future tricksters, another devious woman, perhaps?

Shaking my head, I closed my eyes. Felt the heat on my eyelids, my face, and my neck. Trickles of sweat ran down my back and pooled in crevasses. Should I keep going or head back?

I opened my eyes to yet another sign from nature transfixing me.

A small green lizard lay on a rock formation in front of my face. It was staring directly at me, its small pointed hood splayed out against its shoulders and its leathery skin looking dry but somehow cool. The bulging eyes glared without blinking. Its tail curled behind it in the shape of an ‘S’.

I was mesmerized as it began the same ritual that the fox had danced seconds earlier. Head down, hood back, tongue flick. Head up, hood splayed out, tongue flick. Down, up, repeat. Bobbing time and time again.

This time I made the first move, by resolutely turning around and retracing my path down the mountain.

About halfway down, I met a tall stringy man with a curly mop of hair running up the trail. In the full heat of the sun in the middle of the day.

“G’day, mate … crikey, don’t you look half-knackered? Hows about some water, then?” An Australian … of course. Crazy enough and already used to the heat in any case. He held out a bottle.

I accepted his offering with gratitude. It was cold and divine. He motioned that I should keep the bottle, grinned and bobbed his head and resumed his upward run.

As I limped out onto the road, not looking forward to the long trek back to my friend’s house, a taxi drove up and turned around right in front of me, as if on cue.

This was a sign. The only one actually sent to me; I had no doubt.

I hailed the cab, collapsed on the back seat in air-conditioned comfort, and directed the driver to my friend’s address.

lizard1

 

Little Drops of Urine on the Toilet Bowl of Life

When he saw the two shining drops of pale yellow liquid shimmering on the toilet seat, it stopped Brandon dead in his tracks as he prepared to sit and enjoy his mid-morning constitutional.

He stood still for a second, hovering above the porcelain bowl, observing the drops while various scenarios ran through his mind: ‘Okay’, he thought. ‘It couldn’t be my son Landon, because he is not here.’  Landon was now 19 years old, but was still sometimes disposed to leave the toilet seat down when he peed.

Brandon laid the book he had been carrying down onto the brown faux-granite countertop and unrolled a swath of toilet paper to wipe the offending drops from the seat.

‘Since here we are on vacation,’ he continued in his thought deductions, ‘Linda and I are the only ones in this hotel room, and I have not been to the bathroom yet this morning, still …  could it have been me?  No …’ Brandon was forgetful often; sometimes when he performed his routine tasks he tended to believe he remembered them accurately, but it was possible that he was only remembering them as false memories—the real ones having been supplanted by the memory of his routine actions and not the actual event itself. ‘… it had to have been Linda!’

This thought took him aback even more than had his first sight of the drops of urine.  Linda was fastidious, clean beyond reproach, and quite willing to rip the face off anyone who left pee on the toilet seat, on the wall, floor or any other surface near the bowl but not in it.

Brandon was again struck still by this obvious contradiction and revelation.  It somehow shifted everything he had believed to be true about his life with Linda—perhaps even of Linda herself.  He paused, holding his toilet paper like a hammer above the toilet seat. A part of his brain recognized how odd he would have appeared to anyone else who might suddenly materialize in the tiny bathroom.  That thought scurried off into a dark but possibly more humorous corner, leaving him with the single overriding thought:

‘What do I do next?’

A part of Brandon wanted to confront Linda, laying out to her that he was feeling very strange about this occurrence, and that perhaps he had been blaming Landon for 15-plus years, while the whole time the drops he had seen many times at home had actually been Linda’s.

Another part—his non-confrontational part—vehemently opposed that idea.  Several times over the course of their marriage, Brandon had been absolutely sure that Linda was the cause of something untoward in their household: an argument between the kids or with the neighbours, a misplaced tool or book.  He had at various times believed without doubt that certain occurrences had been happening for some time and that Linda must have known about them but intentionally neglected to tell him. The infestation of ants in the cereal cupboards, or the cat throwing up on the bedspread or in the shoe-closet came to mind.  He had even agonized at one point over finding some evidence that Linda had been carrying on an affair.

Almost all these things, with the exception of the evidence about the affair, Linda had explained away in one or two lines in a convincing manner, or had shrugged them off as so unimportant that it would be simply silly for Brandon to pursue the line of questioning at all.  Brandon had always felt contrite, ashamed and even somewhat relieved that he had indeed been a complete illogical idiot, and Linda was still the paragon.

Brandon had never broached the subject of the affair, precisely for the same reason he was now contemplating the non-confrontational version of his next steps concerning the offending urine drops.  He had believed it would end up the same way as the other situations had, and deep inside himself, he really didn’t want to know the truth—if there was a truth.

Wiping the drops away with two furious swipes, Brandon threw the toilet paper into the water and sat down to relieve himself. But got no relief at all.