Bicycling On the Cusp of Memories

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Went for a long bike ride a couple of weekends ago to test out my new bicycling shorts with the extra padding to keep my butt from exploding on a bike seat narrow enough to cleave souls in half. I took the road through Maugerville (pronounced Majorville by the locals) and across the Burton Bridge and deep into Burton by the majestic Saint John River.

Getting there was all the fun.

I mean, you never really see a place that you’ve driven through a thousand times until you ride through it on a bike, until you’re right up close to it where you can see the bird shit on the pavement and smell the urine of squirrels. Some people think this is too close to any place and wouldn’t go through it on a bike if you set their asses on fire. But there’s something about the clarity of the scenery details pressed against your entire sensory gamut that blends your past, present and future into a single feeling that overlays the emotional content of everything around you.

Or it could have just been me dying from all that bicycling when I’m in terrible shape.

Or maybe it was just the magic of the place. Maugerville follows the contours of the Saint John River and in the summer and early fall it’s like being transported to an early European pastoral landscape. I’ve seen ancient paintings that could have been set in the bowels of Maugerville. In winter, it’s hell. Hell. But it’s late summer and I’m biking through a taste of ancient pastoral paradise.

A place like this gets you thinking, if for no other reason than to take your mind off the feeling that you’re dying from a neglected body that’s suddenly called upon to do something. I started thinking about my early childhood in Ontario, in and around Toronto. At that time, it wasn’t a long drive from downtown to places very Maugerville-ish. But it wasn’t so much remembering people, events and places as it was a sense of that time, a sense of the feelings I experienced at that time completely disassociated with anything happening then. There was nothing to see, nothing that I could point at and say, “This is what I’m remembering.” It was an amalgamation of the feeling of those times.

It was kind of cool…not knowing exactly what it was I was experiencing, but just experiencing it. And then I saw geese. Multitudes of geese. Geese gathering for the big snow bird thing in swarms, swaths, swatches, gaggles and flocks quietly swimming close to the banks of the river. I passed well over a hundred within a five mile stretch of highway meets riverbank.

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Then, of course, I started thinking about geese and their eerie trip south past deadly predators sending clouds of buckshot into the blue sky. And it occurred to me that life was pretty damned hard for geese. And ducks. Everyone was out to kill them. But then I remembered how good Mandarin Orange Duck tastes and started thinking about something else. And that something else was a splash of sunlight on the river that spread over the surface of the water like liquid silver. There was something about the shimmering brightness of it that evoked a sense of sparkling calm over the water and the land. I stared into it for a few moments trying to grab onto whatever thought it was kick-starting in my head, but all I could think of was how beautiful it was and just live with the beauty of an undefined feeling that wasn’t doing any harm.

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Back on the bike, both knees screaming for want of cartilage, I hung onto that feeling of things wavering in the distance of my perspectives, familiar but undefined, flowing under the surface of my days and stringing one day into the next. I had a sense of years past but nothing tied into any particular event or memory. I had a sense of the present as the road passed under my screaming knees. The sun was behind me and the moon ahead of me. Its presence evoked a sense of the future, and there didn’t seem to be anything to worry about. I felt comfortable and I relaxed into the phases of my time.

If you can figure out what that means…please let me know.

An hour into the biking, I could see the Burton Bridge in the distance, its green trusses rising high over the water, epic and otherworldly, like something off the cover of a 50s science fiction magazine.

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The sheer, unexpected size of it is enough to catch your breath for an instant… and the fact that it’s suddenly there.

I thought, Oh shit, I have to bike all the way to the top of that thing. But the 560 gears on my Sirrus Disc bike got me to the top without a single heart attack or seizure.

Now…I’ve driven across this bridge a hundred or more times but this was a the first time I’d biked across it…and the effect is so much different than when you  have a roof over your head and you’re zipping along at 50 an hour. I guess the first thing that comes to mind is size. It’s big, overwhelming. And complex, a maze of girders and rods, pavement and steel railings.

I had to park the bike on a narrow ledge that serves as a precarious sidewalk and get out my camera. I thought, Why didn’t you bring a tripod? This is perfect for HDR. That’s the acronym for High Dynamite Range in which you take an underexposed image, a properly exposed one and an overexposed one and merge them in Photoshop to get an image with the shadows, highlights and mid tones all equally exposed. But, as it turned out, the single images came out looking a lot like HDR.

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I spent about half an hour dodging cars and trucks, motorcycles and skateboards to get a few images that I thought were OK, but it wasn’t long before the dark would be upon me and I didn’t want to bike through the narrow roads deep into Burton by the Saint John with no lights or reflectors anywhere on me…and the pitch dark of a road with no street lights. So I packed up the camera and decided to come back to the Burton Bridge another day to dodge cars and trucks again.

And motorcycles.

And skateboards.

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Writing Hurts Like Hell: How to Write a Novel When You Don’t Have Time to Write a Short Story

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For years I’ve been threatening to turn my writing workshop into a book. I get emails from friends and former students taunting: “We’re not afraid of no book. Go ahead…do your worst.”

They all use these exact words. With every email I felt worse and worse. I lost valuable beauty sleep, sank into deep depressions that would go on and on for minutes. I flew off the handle at people for no reason:

People: Hey, Biff, how you doin’?”

Biff:  DON’T YOU USE THAT LANGUAGE WITH ME! BUGGER OFF!

It was time to do something. It was time to get off my ass and write the book. I mean, over the years I’d prepared detailed notes for each class so that, if anyone missed a class, the notes would bring them up to speed. It was just a matter of putting those notes into a document and calling it…a book! Too easy.

Or so I thought.

When I started putting it all together I realized that I still had a lot of writing to do. In fact, by the time I had a publication-ready manuscript, it was almost a complete re-write. I changed the order of things, dropped material that was appropriate for a live workshop but not for a book, re-wrote some bad writing and made it worse and added material that fleshed out the book with information that all would-be writers need.

I taught this workshop for ten years through UNB’s College of Extended Learning. And it was a blast. It started off bad with me teaching people how to write and giving boring lectures on literary stuff until I realized that I couldn’t teach people how to write. Writing is something you learn by writing, re-writing, writing some more and re-writing until the writing is finished and it’s the best you can do. Anyone can do it, but it takes time…and it hurts like hell. It calls up demons of self-doubt, makes demands on your time and, at times, frustrates you to the point that you don’t even feel yourself pulling hairs out of your head.

So, I thought, I can’t teach people how to write. So what can I do? It started to dawn on me that there was something. I’d been through all the hell of starting novels and dropping them, seeing one great idea after another plunge into nowhere, fighting off the self-doubts, cutting myself off from friends and loved ones, agonizing over pages of pure crap. I’d been through all this and eventually came out with one novel after another and actually had them published.

What I could do is show people how to get through the hell…show them how to avoid the pitfalls and wasted time, how to handle the self-doubts, how to fit the writing into the time slots of their lives and come out of it all with a finished manuscript.

I changed the format of the workshop. I held the first class in the classroom they assigned me on  campus and after that we headed into the city…into bars, malls, studios, people’s homes, coffee shops, parks. We had a live class on the college radio station, we had a class in a hot tub. There were more discussions. There was no talk about grammar. I focused on teaching people how to think like writers and see the world through a writer’s eyes. After a couple of years of this, word got around and the workshop gained the attention of magazines, newspapers and radio stations.

And I kept threatening I was going to turn it into a book someday. Well, I finally did. It doesn’t have the discussions, it doesn’t have the meetings all around the city, and I dropped some of the topics that didn’t fit directly into getting that first manuscript finished. Will the book make it easy for busy people (or anyone) to write a book? No. Writing will always hurt like hell, but the book will show anyone who really wants to write a novel where to start, what to do and how to do it. It will show people how to defeat their self-doubts, build confidence in their creativity and become writers.

***

Writing Hurts Like Hell: How to Write a Novel When You Don’t Have Time to Write a Short Story is available at Amazon in Kindle format. Don’t have a Kindle reader? No problem. You can  download the Kindle app for just about any device free of charge here.

When Kids Seem Strange…

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Here it is…after thousands of hours of blood, sweat and tears from twelve gifted writers…(plus torment from a fire-breathing editor) the latest Twisted Tails IX: Wunderkind. This one is about kids who may seem normal on the surface, but you know something’s going on…somewhere…somehow.

My story in this volume is called That Kid.

I think the title pretty much sums it up.

That Kid.

Twisted Tails IX: Wunderkind is on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com in print and ebook versions.

 

 

 

Ladies of the Fountain

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The Three Rules for Wishing on a Fountain (if you really think your wish will come true):

1. Make your wish.
2. Throw your coin.
3. Run like hell.

He threw three coins, but the damn fool didn’t run.

***

Staring into the white sculptured eyes of the first lady of the fountain, he said: “I want you to be alive and be my woman.” He threw the first coin and it landed in the top bowl. To the next lady he said: “I want you to be alive and be my woman.” He threw the second coin. It landed in the middle bowl. To the last lady, he said: “I want you to be alive and be my woman.” He dropped the third coin right into the bottom bowl. As it dropped through the air, he was happy and thought about how cool it would be if all three of the statues in the fountain came to life and were all madly in love with him and wanted nothing more than to accompany him everywhere and fuck his brains out every day.

Cool, he thought.

“Thunk,” said the last coin as it sliced into the water.

***

He didn’t run. He stayed and stared at the fountain: a big circular bowl made of white marble. A short podium with three rams’ heads jutted out the center, and three ancient Greek-looking women, arms crossing their chests, stood back-to-back in a circle on top of the podium.

“Run, you idiot,” said thunk. But he stayed and he stared at the fountain.

Balanced like half the scales of an unfathomable justice on top of the three ladies’ heads was a second bowl though smaller than the one on the ground. A pillar sprung out the center of this bowl as though it were a single purpose of thought spurting from the minds of the three ladies, and there was a third bowl, smaller than the second bowl, on top of the pillar. The whole thing formed a V pointing skyward with water from a metal tube bubbling into the top bowl, trickling down into the middle bowl and then into the bottom bowl.

***

For makeup the ladies wore spider webs and dark streaks blown across their faces by the wind and the rain. He used to clear away the webs with this hand until one day a large brown spider with long legs poked its obscene body out from under a stone white lock of hair just inches from his hand. After that, he thought the webs actually lent the ladies a touch of naturalness so he left the webs alone.

The fountain appeared ancient, ancient and Greek, like the kind of thing to inspire myth and mayhem, which was exactly what it would do.

***

He stared into the ladies’ white stone eyes as he walked around the fountain, loving them and wanting them. Stone sculptures in a fountain. Beautiful and timeless. But stone. White stone.

He really didn’t have much of a life.

He looked away from the fountain, into the long narrow distance of The Green, a strip of grass, trees, walking paths and benches by the river, and of course, a white stone fountain with three sculpted women of indeterminate ancient origin.

He strolled to the edge of The Green where it banked on the river, stood by a massive weeping willow and stared across the river, so wide at this point that tourists mistook it for a lake. A light wind whipped across the gray water and brushed gently through the droopy leaves of the willow. Alder bushes, reeds, ferns and saplings crowded the bank down to the water’s edge where muddy flotsam dried in the sun. Further down The Green, Dutch Elms towered into the sky, their tops spreading out like giant umbrellas in the heat-dazed air.

His head bustled with images of beautiful women whose loose robes flapped in lusty zephyrs revealing perfectly sculpted legs and cleavage plunging into depths that would drive him mad.

Warm gusts of wind rippled the deep grass of the Green like footprints of an invisible presence.

Run.

***

It was an abrupt change in the splish and drip of water in the fountain, a change in delicately balanced rhythms. The breeze evaporated into stillness. A million blades of grass stood erect. Every leaf on every tree hushed and hung. Time blinked for an instant and something sneaked past time’s inexhaustible logic and dipped its magical toes into the water of the fountain.

Splish.

Too late to run.

***

The ladies stepped out of the bowl wiping spider webs and whiteness from their faces. Deep blue flashed into their as eyes they looked around curiously, taking in the grass, the sky and the trees. They looked each other up and down with growing recognition and smiled.

“At last,” said Tia. “Time to party.”

“You might want to cover up a bit, dear,” said Alaia, pointing to a comely example of ancient breast slipping into full view at the top of Tia’s robe. “We don’t want our cleavage plunging into depths that will drive the mortals mad.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Tia as she nudged her robe barely enough to cover the pale pink of an eternally erect nipple.

“Oh, you guys,” said Epsy. “Always on at each other.”

The other two looked at her, thinking simultaneously All this time to contemplate, and still a ditz.

“Where is he?” said Tia.

Alaia pointed at a man standing by the riverbank. He wasn’t a memorable person: balding up front, long ponytail dangling from the back, generic face.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Tia.

“Think about it, dear. What kind of man is going to throw three coins into a fountain, make the same wish three times and really expect to get his brains fucked out?”

Tia looked at him again, shrugged her shoulders and pouted. “You’re right. If we just didn’t need the losers.”

Alaia nodded. “Better make this good.”

***

His name was Rollo. Rollo. His jaw hung dangerously close to falling off his face as Tia walked toward him, her robe slipping ever so slightly to reveal the tip of a nipple winking from depths that threatened to drive him mad. She moved across the grass like butter mixing with warm honey and put her arms around his neck. He felt her breath on his face―a warm Mediterranean scent heavy with lust and music―and all his strength flowed out of his body and into her lips as they pressed on his mouth. He flowed into her, eyes wide and body sapped of the will to even tremble. Her kiss drained his soul and left his body a single vibration of desire. He felt her thigh pressed up hard against the hardest erection of his entire life.

Alaia and Epsy looked at each other, winked and smiled.

Tia’s lips seemed to float away from Rollo’s mouth and she giggled and every giggle blew hot pleasure into his face. “I’m Tia,” she said. “And you’re…?”

Her voice sent a wave of pure lusty energy caroming off every cell in his body and landed full on his erection. “Huh!” he said.

“Huh,” repeated Tia. “Strange name. Is there a story behind it?”

Her voice rolled through his body like a hot snowball gaining strength and momentum and splashing into his penis with a force that nearly emptied his brain into a black hole of pleasure.

“Look, Huh, I know you can talk,” said Tia. “You made the wishes. Three times. Once for each of us…and here we are. Say something.”

“R…” said Rollo.

“And…” encouraged Tia.

He felt himself falling into her eyes and somewhere in the space that he fell through, the word “Rollo” slipped into the paralyzed wind.

“Rollo,” said Tia, nodding. “Reminds me of someone I used to know a long time ago.” She took his hand and led him to where Alaia and Epsy stood, smiling.  “I want you to meet my…let’s say…sisters. This is Alaia.”

Alaia curtseyed and said, “Pleased to meet you Rollo.”

Rollo opened his mouth slightly and nodded.

“And this is Epsy,” said Tia.

Epsy futtered her lashes and winked at him. “I don’t care what the others think,” she said. “I think you’re cute.”

Alaia and Tia looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Rollo stared into Epsy’s eyes and felt himself evaporating into her direction. He smiled. His mind was beginning to clear enough that he could think at least one clear thought. His wish. In his wish, they were supposed to fuck his brains out.

“That’s right, Rollo,” said Tia.

His eyes widened. Did I say that out loud?

“It’s Ok,” said Epsy, giggling. “This way we know how to please you.”

Suddenly, everything seemed to make sense to Rollo. His wish had come true. They would be with him. The three women looked at each other and grinned. “For a slow start, this one caught on quick,” said Alaia.

“Time to explore!” said Tia. She pointed toward the end of The Green where buildings peeked out from behind the maples and elms. “Is that a city?”

“You might call it that,” said Rollo. “More like a glorified town, if you ask me. It’s…”

“Are there places to eat and drink?” asked Tia.

“And shopping?” said Epsy. “Are there places to shop?” “How is the food in your glorified town?” asked Alaia.

“Is the wine heady?” asked Tia.

“Actually,” said Rollo, “this city is known mostly for its relaxing atmosphere and absence of choice.”

The ladies looked at each other, puzzled. Then they giggled and grabbed Rollo’s arms and dragged him toward the buildings. “We need to party,” said Tia. “And you…you need a life.” She winked at the other two.

As they passed by a statue of Robert Burns, the Scotch sage seemed almost to look on in approval through pigeon-shitted eyes.

***

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On the opposite side of the street, sprawling Victorian style houses put on Victorian airs in the morning haze, their wood rot painted over,  dusty curtains sagging heavily behind fading windows.

“What a shame to build with wood,” said Epsy, “when stone is so much more permanent.” Tia craned her neck around Rollo and joined Alaia in glaring at her.

They passed a marble and brick building fronted by sculptures of animals and abstract shapes clawing at the air.

“Is there food and wine in this building?” asked Epsy.

“That’s just an art gallery,” said Rollo. “Mostly paintings and… “At least it’s made of stone…for permanence.” Tia and Alaia glared again.

They came to a building that filled the sky, stone and glass towering above them. Epsy regarded the building approvingly. She was about to comment on its stoneness when another thought crossed her mind, something deep and infinitely meaningful for someone cast in stone since God knows when. “I have to pee.” All three ladies stopped, almost tugging Rollo off his feet. “And that’s not all I have to do,” said Epsy, slapping her robed rump. The three giggled and Tia pointed at the building. “Are there facilities in there?”

“It’s a hotel,” he said. “But they’ll have public washrooms on the main floor.

“We have to pee in public?” said Epsy. “I don’t think I want to do that. At least not yet.”

“I mean, they’re…”

“He means open to the public, Eps,” said Tia. “Nobody’s going to watch you tinkle.”

They went through a pair of massive brass doors and into a high-ceilinged hall, ornate with leather, red felt and muffled air. Daryl Shaw, a reservations clerk who dreamed of someday owning his own bed and breakfast, suddenly put together all the parts of his life into something that finally made sense. He saw into the deepest meaning of things and realized that he really didn’t want a bed and breakfast because he didn’t really like people and didn’t want to spend his life serving and reserving them. He grabbed onto a bundle of initial plausibilities, walked off the job, and set out to make his life itself a work of art.

Rollo led the ladies into a hallway and pointed at an overhead light announcing RESTROOMS. “The door under the light,” he said. Giggling and pinching each other, the ladies disappeared into the washroom. Rollo waited for what seemed like hours. He thought that no human being could pee for so long. He was about to knock on the door when it burst open and the ladies barged out in a storm of laughter. Tia hooked her arm under Rollo’s. “You don’t notice it so much when you’re stone and have a couple hundred pounds of fountain on your head.”

Rollo nodded. “I suppose so.”

As they passed an open door with an unmade bed, Tia looked in and said, “A bed!” Without another word, she pulled Rollo into the room and threw him onto the bed. His clothes peeled off as he flew through the air and he landed naked. Tia was also naked. Behind her, Alaia and Epsy were naked. Staring at Tia’s marble-like breasts, Rollo said: “I think I’m going to loose my mind.”

Mounting him, Tia said, “You most certainly are.”

She pounded onto him for what seemed like hours. He was a wave rushing over an infinite ocean as she surfed his penis into a crazy horizon. He felt his pleasure soar into the universe and crash into the end of time and then soar again over and over and then it was Alaia riding him and then Epsy and then Tia again and all the fixed perspectives of his life seemed to flow out of his brain and evaporate from the churning surface of a pool of pure pleasure. It might have lasted hours, it might have lasted years.

As they left the hotel, Rollo had difficulty getting his head around the fact that it was still mid-morning. So he stopped thinking about it.

***

On the sidewalk, Epsy belched hard enough to knock three pigeons senseless. Passerby Richard Conway saw this, walked into the street and fell into an open sewer. As he plunged to certain death, he wrote an entire rock opera about a down-and-out truck driver in his head. It ended with a plop.

Tia yelled, “Gypsies!”

Everyone followed her eyes to the park across the street, filled with open-walled tents and tables. “That’s an arts and crafts fair,” said Rollo. “They have it every…”

“Oh, look at the beautiful scarves,” said Epsy.

“You said the shopping wasn’t good,” said Alaia, one eye cocked scornfully.

“But it’s only…”

“It’s wonderful!” yelled Tia. “Let’s shop!”

They pulled Rollo across the street and past ticket attendant June MacLean who picked up her iPhone and began writing that novel she’d always dreamed of, now that everything was suddenly so crystal clear.

“Oh look at the scarves!” barked Epsy. They rushed to a green-topped tent with hundreds of tie-dyed scarves flapping from wooden hangers and the ladies disappeared into rows of swaying color.

All around them, artisans, artists, crafts persons, patrons, customers, critics, apprentices, sculptors, weavers, etchers, potters, jewelers, glass blowers, and stone masons perked up from artistic detachment, and a new generation of craft emerged from their collective consciousness. Never-before dreamed of motifs that mocked all pre-conceived notions of design sprouted willy-nilly from minds suddenly bursting with fiery notions.

By the time the ladies exited the tent―scarves blowing from their necks, arms and ankles―the laid-back mid-morning arts and crafts show was bustling with excitement. They passed a tent with racks displaying thousands of porcelain pins, broaches, ear rings, and belly button rings all decorated with colorful bugs. Rollo noticed Epsy’s attention pausing a moment on a bright black and white ladybug pin. He bought it for her. She smiled and giggled and pinned it to her robe right over her left thigh. Then she kissed him on the cheek.

***

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A folding sign advertising a special on Irish stew caused them to detour into Molly’s Coffee House. Molly’s turned out to be a licensed coffee house. The ladies drank every drop of wine, beer, and spirits from the bar and then from the store room. A group of Bohemian tourists passed a note book around their table and wrote the world’s first collective unconscious novel to win the Nobel Prize for literature. It was about coffee and beer.

***

Back on the sidewalk it was mid-morning. Rollo and the ladies were festive and drunk as they passed a man in a three-piece suit who gawked at Tia in a manner that displeased her. She smiled at him and ran her finger down the inside neck of her robe just enough to reveal the exact amount of cleavage to make him tear off his clothing and devote the remainder of his life to naked barding.

They passed a tall red brick building with a sign announcing Sports Hall of Fame. Alaia pointed at a large patch of thick grass shaded by a towering Dutch Elm. “Let’s rest awhile,” she said. Nobody argued.

Laying in the grass Rollo listened to the three ladies talk of many things, like how Tia drove Nero fiddling mad with her cleavage and Alaia teased Da Vinci by changing the slant of her mouth every time he was just about to get it right. Epsy giggled as she told how she inspired Catullus’ bed sheet tent.

“Which brings to mind…” said Tia.

And the three ladies converged on Rollo in the deep green grass under the tall Dutch Elm on a hazy summer mid-morning.

***

They came to a fountain similar to the one on The Green, except it had just one figure and it was on top of the fountain.

“Pan!” screamed Tia, pointing wildly at the golden figure, naked and mischievous-looking with his baby face and old eyes. “What are you doing here!”

Rollo half expected the statuette to answer but it remained frozen in stone and gold paint, unspeaking, water pouring from its midsection. A tiny breath of sadness seemed to surround the ladies as they nodded to each other. Alaia said, “Another time.”

“You knew him?” asked Rollo.

“Partied with him many times,” said Alaia.

“Sometimes he had sex with the wrong people,” said Tia.

“And the wrong beings,” added Epsy.

Alaia shrugged and smiled at the statuette. “See you later,” she said. “Party animal.” She pointed to a sign over an alley between two red brick buildings. “What’s that?” she asked.

Rollo read the sign. Piper’s Lane. “It’s named after the statue I guess. It leads to an outdoor party area with tables and decks and umbrellas.”

“Party area?” said Tia.

“Yes, but …”

“What are we waiting for!” said Epsy.

“But, it’s …”

“Time to party!” said Tia.

“But it’s closed!” yelled Rollo.

“What do you mean closed,” asked Alaia. “It’s late.”

Rollo looked around at the mid-morning cityscape and shrugged. “It doesn’t open until noon. In fact, most of the bars…”

“Let’s go,” said Tia.

As the ladies pulled Rollo away from the fountain, he could almost have sworn that the Pan’s mouth curved into a brutal smile. Seconds later, they were in shade between the two old buildings in an alley that smelled of urine and wood rot. The stone walkway was cracked and potholed. Epsy made no comments on the permanence of stone.

The alley opened into a sunlit square with brightly furnished decks, cobblestone walkways, specialty shops, pubs―most of them closed―and a large roofless dance area with an empty stage. There were about twenty people scattered through the decks and tables, drinking coffee, reading newspapers or talking quietly.

Epsy and Alaia pulled Rollo into the center of the courtyard where they sat under a wide blue and white striped umbrella while Tia grabbed onto a bartender, ignored his pleas that they were closed, and told him to bring food and drink, lots of food and drink. “More food and drink than you dare dream of,” she commanded. The bartender would eventually write a film script about two beer bubbles that fall in love and soar to the top of the glass where they evaporate together and reach an infinite oneness in the surrounding air. It would be lauded as one of the most remarkable films of all time but, with a running time of twenty-four hours, it would never actually be produced.

By the time Tia got to their table, other people were starting to arrive. Bar owners messing with computerized accounting programs closed their laptops after deciding that today would be a good day to open early. People working in surrounding buildings decided it was time for a break, time for a frosty cold beer and some salad. A group of drunken rednecks who had slept under their table the previous night so as not to lose it the following day decided to start the world’s first intellectual country band. They called it the “Existential Cowboys Who Are In Touch With Their Feminine Selves.” During their first live performance―in a country bar―the audience would pummel them to death with beer mugs and pitchers.

Within minutes Piper’s Lane was hustling with the sound of laughter and clinking glasses. Everywhere, the conversation was animated and passionate with talk of spatial relationships and the delicate balance between reality and illusion. People theorized and postulated new meanings into their ordinary lives, rising as they did into new realms of awareness.

A group of musicians lugged instruments onto the stage, plugged in and started playing. The music was indefinable, like something not heard on earth since gods slept in the clouds and woke up in ditches. The music flowed like hot tomato sauce over the tables and umbrellas and into the streets and over the buildings and over the naked bodies of hundreds of vibrant humans gathered in Piper’s Lane talking of form and content and the countless ways of arranging them into new meanings.

Rollo glanced around at naked men and women standing with drinks in hand, sitting with palms cupped over bare knees, absently scratching public hair while making a point about the ontological proof for the non-existence of reason. It didn’t surprise Rollo that he was also naked. In fact, it seemed more than natural, almost expected. And he wasn’t surprised when the three ladies pounced on him as one. Everyone was suddenly inside everyone else. They coupled on tabletops, on bench tops, on chairs, on the ground and standing up. An elderly man who’d just been told by his doctor an hour earlier that he would never get it up again felt his penis whip up like a telephone pole. People performed wild acts on the naked musicians as they played without dropping a note. Their music spiraled inexorably from mild to frenzied, and electrified the air, propelling the gathering into further sexual acts, into new ways of inserting body parts into body parts and positions that broke all rational laws of gravity and flexibility.

As they fucked, they talked. They talked about literature and art and ideas. They spoke in poetic tongues. They plotted plays and devised dialog. They inspired each other and consumed each other.

Whatever Rollo was feeling was far beyond sex with the three ladies who pummeled his penis and licked his body and kissed him all over as though they were one thing covering every square inch of his body simultaneously. He felt alternately on fire and frozen in space and time. His mind emptied into a beautiful ocean of calm and Tia, Alaia and Epsy were waves breaking over his being while he sank happily into a void where everything was waiting to become.

His loins began to build to something wonderful and great and the thought crossed his mind that in all the sex he’d had so far, he hadn’t come once.

Now, he felt the impending explosion. His awareness flew out the top of his head and soared into the air. He gazed right through the blue and white umbrella at himself covered with three beautiful women of indeterminate ancient origin mauling every cell of his body with their lust as all around them hundreds of people talked and found new ways to penetrate each other.

His brain exploded as his loins exploded.

And he emptied.

***

Rollo shook his head. It was dark. He was standing by the bank of the river under the massive weeping willow. The air was still. The grass was motionless. Every leaf on every tree slept, dreaming of the warm sun and winds that would come the next day. He looked across the river, so wide it appeared more as lake than river, and he wondered where the day had gone. He turned and looked longingly at the three ladies in the fountain. He reached into his pockets for coins but his pockets were empty. He remembered wishing earlier. How long had it been? How long had he been standing by the river?

He was hungry. He walked toward the fountain looking at the one he thought of for some reason as a bit of a ditz and feeling strangely as though he could almost imagine her thighs wrapped around his waist. He walked past the fountain thinking about the relationship between Incan architecture and the work of Andy Warhol. These thoughts would eventually lead to a unified theory of the arts that would make Rollo the greatest art theorist of all time, even though he would never be able to actually sit down and discuss a single one of his arguments without losing interest and turning his attention to something else like perhaps a mote of dust riding the tide of an exhaled breath.

He passed by the fountain without noticing the faded stone outline of an insect much like a ladybug pinned on the robe over the left thigh of one of the ladies.

***

He lived for another forty years. He never married. He never had sex. He worked day and night on his unified theory of the arts and he sculpted in stone. He was never lonely, feeling in some reach of his being that he’d reached some inestimable height from which he was slowly falling back to an world that he would probably never reach. For the most part, he was content.

He died in a car accident. The doctor who performed the autopsy was surprised to find no brain in his skull.

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NOTE: This story was originally published in Twisted Tails VII: Irreverance by Double Dragon Publishing. If you’d like to read some more fiction like this, you can get the anthology at Amazon.

Ross Howard – Psychic

Ross

Ross Howard was a psychic. A real-life, bonafide, honest-to-goodness psychic. And he’d been a psychic for, oh, let’s see now…six hours. Ever since he’d been banged on the head by a hammer that morning on his way to work. He wasn’t sure how that had happened; probably just a random head banging but, when it was over, Ross was a psychic.

He could read minds. Predict the future. Lift heavy objects through the power of thought. He hadn’t tried the last one yet, but he could predict the future and he’d predicted that he would soon be lifting heavy objects just by thinking it.

In the meantime, he was having one hell of a time reading peoples’ minds, delving into their most inner secrets, peeking into the stuff of their lives, prying away the illusory boards shuttering the windows into their pasts.

Only problem was…people kept lying to him. In their thoughts. And he had ample proof of this. For instance, he read the thoughts of a woman in the coffee shop line-up just a few hours ago. She was thinking about buying a regular coffee with lite cream but, when she opened her mouth to order, she said, “I’ll have a double caramel latte.”

Liar.

And he could have sworn he’d seen the hint of a malicious smile as she placed her order.

An hour before that, a man driving an SUV in front of Ross was thinking about turning right but almost as soon as Ross read the man’s thoughts he suddenly turned left without any warning and cut across traffic at a busy intersection, almost crashing into a Ford pickup, a convertible Punch Buggy and a woman on a mountain bike.

Crazy liar.

And had Ross seen the man laughing into his rear view mirror?

So he figured he’d try a little reverse psychology. A woman sitting at a restaurant counter bounced her choice between the lemon meringue and apple pie before deciding on the lemon meringue. But Ross knew she was lying and knew that she would pick the apple. When the waitress came over to her, she said, “Could I have a slice of that lemon meringue pie, please.”

These people couldn’t even tell the truth when they were lying. And again, he could have sworn he’d seen a nasty grin on the woman’s face as she ordered her lemon meringue pie.

It was mid-afternoon in suburbia and the sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, but there was just the slightest of breezes to keep everything warm but comfortable. It was a beautiful day to be a psychic…if he could just figure a way to get people to think the truth. The woman at the restaurant kept with her decision to the lemon meringue pie, but she’d led him to believe that she would get the apple pie by deciding not to get the apple pie.

Had she done that deliberately, just to mess with his head? Or…were mysterious forces at work? With the gift of his new powers, maybe he’d opened some sort of portal into states of being beyond the ordinary. Had he disturbed things that were better left alone? He thought about this for a few minutes and decided it was time to lift heavy objects with his mind.

He focused on a garbage truck parked by the side of the road about thirty feet away. He thought deeply. Very deeply. He visualized the truck lifting gently upwards from the pavement. He closed his eyes and imagined all weight and substance drifting out of the truck so that it would rise, rise, rise from the pavement. He opened his eyes and the truck was still grounded. So he commanded out loud that the truck rise. He lifted his hands, palms upwards, as though he were lifting the truck with his arms, and said, “I command you to rise! I command you to rise!” The truck stubbornly stayed where it was.

Ross decided that he’d probably seen a little further into the future than he’d guessed when he predicted he could lift heavy objects with his mind.

Back to mind reading.

He saw the mini mall a few blocks ahead with the bright blue sign announcing his favorite cyberbar, The Lively Laptop Cyberbar and Grill. Beer and a laptop. That’s what he needed. He passed a yard surrounded by a metal fence and looked into the future, predicting that a dog would bark at him. As the walked by the fence, sure enough, a vicious Dachshund barked indolently at him as it lay on its side in the cool grass. His ability to look into the future was starting to develop.

He walked through the tinted glass doors of The Lively Laptop Cyberbar and Grill into a large LED lighted room with a bar running the length of one wall, booths attached to the other wall, and coffee tables surrounded by easy chairs filling the floors. The glow of monitor screens lit the faces of about a dozen people hunched fervently over laptops. No one was talking. He’d never paid much attention to the other customers in the past, but today he would be paying much attention.

Time to read some minds and find out who was downloading porno. He bought a Corona from a young woman wearing thick glasses who dragged herself reluctantly from her laptop behind the bar. He read her mind. She was irritated with him. She frowned when she passed the beer over the counter to him. Ah, he thought, someone’s finally thinking the truth. He paid for his beer and walked slowly, so as not to attract attention, to one of the tables against the wall. He opened a dated laptop sitting in the center of the table and pressed the ON button. While the laptop booted up, he looked around the room. Who’s mind would he read?

His eyes settled on a middle aged man in a two piece suit with his tie and shirt collar loosened around his neck. He focused on the man’s head, looking deep into his brain, opening his own mind to whatever thoughts would flow from the man’s cranium. Almost immediately, he knew the man’s name—Bob. Bob something. He knew the man was writing an email to a business associate. He knew that man was writing, “I’m sure Hanson will go along with the plan, but we’ll have to watch Mercer carefully.”

Good.

That was a successful mind read. He thought about approaching the man and asking his name and what he was doing, but the thought crossed his mind that the man might suspect that his mind had just been read. That was something he’d have to think about. Secrecy. If other people found out about his powers he could find himself in a bit of a pickle. How would they react to his ability to peer into their deepest secrets? Would there be those who would want to hire him for his psychic talents? Would there be those who would fear his talents and want him dead? Would they see him as a precursor to a new race of superior human beings and fear for the extinction of the human race as it is? Would he be seen as a threat to national security? Would they send teams of men in black suits and black SUVs in the wee hours of the night to wisk him off to some secret laboratory where he would spend the rest of his life under observation, poked with cold steel instruments, interrogated endlessly, hooked to wires and electrodes, subjected to psychological testing at all hours of the day and night?

No…he would have keep his new powers secret. At least, for the time being. In the meantime, he would work on them, develop them, get a grip on his full potential. And right now, he would read someone else’s mind. Let’s see. The woman in the corner with the glasses that seemed to cover most of her oval face. Her eyes were the size of silver dollars as they stared into the laptop monitor, her face illuminated eerily, like a phantom object shining out of the darkness of the corner. He stared intently at her high forehead, stared into her forehead where the gray matter was, where her thoughts were. Her name was Sara. She was thinking, “…mmm, ffttt. Mmmm…rrrrgggg; mmm…fftt…”

No way could that be a lie. So her name had to be Sara. His powers were in top form. He was reading minds like a pro. He was on the cusp of great things. No one could stop him now. If they came for him in the wee hours of the night, he would know. He would know before they knew. He would lift them into the skies with his ability to lift heavy objects just by thinking about it and let them hover over their fate until they screamed for their mommies.

He took a long celebratory drink of beer, then watched as his laptop screen finally displayed Firefox. He cursored to the Google search box and entered: mind reading for beginners. 556,000,000 results. He decided to do some research later. In the meantime, he would just learn by doing. He turned the laptop off and chugged the rest of his beer.

Outside, the sky was beginning to cloud over. Ross predicted rain.

He spotted a small plane in the sky and decided to try his hand at long distance mind reading. He projected his thought reading power into the sky and centered on the plane, penetrating the fuselage, directly into the mind of the pilot, whose name was Bob. Bob was thinking about his approach to the airport, which seemed strange. Ross thought that the airport was in the opposite direction. But he wasn’t sure. So he wouldn’t accuse Bob of lying. As he thought this, he noticed that the plane dipped its wing. Wasn’t that how pilots saluted and acknowledged someone on the ground? Well, he wished Bob a happy landing.

Yes, his powers were getting stronger by the moment. He was reading people’s minds like reading comic books. He was the master of transparency. He started thinking about how best to use his powers and the answer came into his mind immediately: time to get rich.

He headed straight for the Tenth Street Casino. It was time for some poker, and it didn’t matter how straight faced the other players were. But he would let them win some small amounts, at first. Let them get over confident, ready for some big bets. He would know exactly when to lose and win. He would play them from within their own minds.

An hour later, he walked out of the Tenth Street Casino broke, his wallet cleaned out, his savings cleaned out, his wrist minus a watch.

Liars !

He couldn’t believe it. It was as though they all knew that their minds were being read and deliberately did the opposite of what they were thinking. Even when they were about to do the opposite of what they were thinking, they suddenly did the opposite of that.

Cheating liars!

He was stunned. Heading towards him down the sidewalk was a woman pushing a stroller with something bundled up so tightly it was impossible to tell if it was a baby or a dog. He read the woman’s mind as she was about to pass him. It was a baby boy. His name was Bob. Finally, another successful mind reading.

The woman stopped and looked at him quizzically. Uh-oh. Was his secret out? Did she, through some form of mother’s intuition, sense that he’d been reading her mind? Would they be coming for him in the wee hours of the night?

“Traci,” said the woman.

Ross stared at her. What the hell was she talking about?

“My baby is a girl. Her name is Traci, not Bob. And that’s a nasty bump you have on your head.”

(Note: This is one of the many fine stories in the Twisted Tails VIII anthology. You can order a copy of it and read many fine stories better than the one you just read by clicking HERE.)

TT VIII

Searching for Peace (In the mall)

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“Hey, Biff,” said the fox. “Hope you had a great vacation in Veradero, hope you had a great time recovering from bronchitis and I hope you had a great time slacking off and watching the first season of Sons of Anarchy instead of writing, but it’s time to get back to your search for peace.”

“I dunno, fox,” I said. “I think I’ve searched just about everywhere and couldn’t find it. Maybe peace doesn’t really exist. Maybe it’s just a dream that never was and never will be.”

“You giving up on searching for peace, Biff?” said the fox.

“I feel like a hamster on a wheel to nowhere,” I said. “It’s like peace is right in front of me shining like a golden sunflower seed that I can almost touch…and then I read the news or see a picture of people killing each other for no good reason than to just kill someone…and that golden sunflower seed turns into a bullet pointed right between my eyes.”

“You’ve never been a quitter, Biff,” said the fox. “Why start now. And besides, you’ll have to admit it’s been fun…and interesting.”

“Not always so much fun,” I said. “You shrunk me into a tiny Biff and surrounded me with about a billion dust mites. I felt very fragile, fox.”

“It was a learning experience, Biff,” said the fox.

“I’ll never see my living room carpet the same again,” I said. “But, yeah, it was interesting.”

“That’s better, Biff,” said the fox. “So where are we off to now?”

“How about the mall?” I said.

“Biff,” said the fox, “foxes don’t go to the mall. We only consume what we eat.”

“We’ll go there to observe,” I said. “Watch people drool over things they can’t afford and then watch their eyes fill with angst when they buy those things anyway…on their credit cards.”

“That’s just plain sad, Biff,” said the fox. “And how does that get us any closer to peace?”

“Pieces in the puzzle, fox, pieces in the puzzle,” I said.

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And there we were, in the mall, surrounded by store fronts and the bustle of people looking for that perfect thing that will make their lives suddenly meaningful. A brand new red shirt that doesn’t go with anything else in the wardrobe but wouldn’t I look so good in that red shirt? Gotta have it.

A silver pendant with a huge fake emerald gleaming out from the silver. Something to go with the perfect blouse I know I’m going to find today. And no one will ever know it’s not a real emerald.

“Biff,” said the fox,” this is really sad. What are all these people doing here?”

“Searching for the dream, fox,” I said. “Searching for something they’ll never find here, but they’ll keep coming back, looking, hoping, being fooled again and again.”

“Kind of like your search for peace, Biff?” said the fox.

“I hope not, fox,” I said. “But maybe there’s something here…I don’t know what…but I’m running out of ideas.” I thought about this for a few hours as an unhappy horde of shoppers herded around us, their eyes darting from one display window to another. Searching. I was beginning to feel a little better about my own search. “I know a few people who never go into malls,” I said.

“They search somewhere else?” said the fox.

“No,” I said. “They don’t search…they find.”

“How can you find without searching?” said the fox.

“By knowing what you really want,” I said. “And then going to the place where you know you’ll find it.”

“So where do they go?” said the fox.

“Places like farmer’s markets, independent craft and clothing stores,” I said. “They make a lot of their own stuff…like clothing, food, booze.”

“They make dandelion wine like you do, Biff?” said the fox.

“Some of them do,” I said. “But the main thing is…they don’t let anyone else tell them what they need. They make those decisions on their own.”

“So how do they do that?” said the fox.

“I think it has something to do with knowing themselves,” I said.

“Like accepting themselves?” said the fox. “Like you said before…just accepting yourself with all the good and all the bad?”

“That…and more,” I said. “Accepting themselves and accepting the things they need to do to make everything in their lives acceptable. They’re aware of the world around them and where and who they are in that world.”

“Sounds like a lot of work,” said the fox.

“It is, fox,” I said. “It’s a lot of work, but they get something precious out of it.”

“What’s that?” said the fox.

“Empowerment, fox,” I said. “And all the feelings that come with that…like satisfaction, happiness, a sense of feeling complete instead of always feeling half-finished. The sense of personal worth that comes with setting your own standards instead of letting some corporate asshole set standards that will always keep you wanting and needing more.”

“So, Biff,” said the fox. “Who are these people?”

“They’re people with a low profile, fox,” I said. “They tend to live under the radar, away from the craziness the rest of us call normal life. Let’s visit a few of them. Another day.”

“Not today?” said the fox.

“I’d like to take a nice cold shower and wash away the feeling of mall before doing that,” I said.

“With you on that, Biff,” said the fox.

To Be Continued (but not in the mall)

“I hear you lost a tooth in Havana,” said the fox.

“Bit into piece of cast iron melba toast,” I said. “Bye bye tooth.”

“Let’s see it, Biff,” said the fox.

“Nope,” I said. “It’s embarrassing. I look like an escapee from the Bowery.”

“C’mon, Biff,” said the fox. “Big smile. Give us a big smile.”

“I’m not smiling, fox,” I said.

“Aww…” said the fox.

“I’m not smiling,” I said.

“Tell you what, Biff,” said the fox. “I’ll smile if you smile.”

“You gotta be kidding.”

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