One Twelfth of Heaven

…with partial apologies to Melissa Scott, a real writer, for the title of this post…

Here, after our recent digression back into Mantorville for Dave a week ago, is another dose of Stars in Heaven for Colleen, who was kind enough to comment favorably a couple of times while I was not actually live and present on the blog recently.

Galactic Nebula NGC 7635

“Come on, boy. Wake up!” Rimmon’s voice, somewhere distant. Who’s he talking to?

“Unca Rim…?”

“Yeah, boy. It’s me. It’s Rim..”

“What happened?”

“You puked, kidboy.” —Like Aunt Sarai, that. “Now you’re lyin’ in it, and you should get up.”

The boy reeled to his feet, the world sloshing all awry around him, and promptly fell down again.

“Not like that, kidboy. Come on, you gotta get up. Now. It’s important.”

He tried again, rising a bit more slowly, and this time things seemed to move a little more fluidly, keeping pace with his head, remaining level.

Uncle Rimmon had a wet rag in his hand and quickly wiped the boy’s face and upper body. Very quickly. The boy tried to help, taking the rag and working on his vomit-stained clothing and flesh.

“Good boy. That’s the way.”

They were alone. Not just Daniel, but Ghorf and Jism gone as well. “Where is everybody?” He remembered, he thought, yes… Daniel had lipped Ghorf and then run for it. Was he making his big Escape?

“They’re gone, kidboy. Doncha remember? Chasin’ Daniel. —You remember…”

Ghorf must’ve taken off after his son. Yes… Ghorf’d hit him and then run. “So Jism went after Unca Ghorf?”

“Yeah. Exactly.”

“Whu— where’d they go?”

“Dunno, kidboy. That’s what I need you for. Somebody’s gotta stay here. ‘N’ that’s gotta be me. Too much stardust to trust to a li’l— …You gotta find ‘em.”

“But I don’t know where to go.”

“They went that way, kid. That’s all I know. You go that way, too.”

Uncle Rim looked serious, really serious. That was not usual for him. The boy had only known this new uncle for a day, but Daniel had told stories. And Uncle Rimmon was always the good guy, the unGhorf, the laughing one in those stories. And that’s just how he had been this past day. But not now. Now something that the boy thought looked a little like fear sparkled in the city man’s eyes.

“Go now, kidboy. Before they get any farther off.”

So he went. The boy, unsteadily on his feet, turned and took steps away into the hurrying masses of people, all of them so much larger than he was, all hurrying, rushing, bumping him immediately as he cleared the boothside. Someone could scent the puke and even pushed the boy to avoid the filth.

He wanted to stop as he staggered from one set of legs into another. Big adult voices snarling at him, the clumsy one, in the way, watch where you’re going, what’s the stink, eh.

He tried right away to turn around and go back, but there were too many legs already, too many people: he’d come too far already; and the booth was out of sight, and he wasn’t even sure in which direction. And Uncle Rimmon’s peculiar look haunted him vividly, those eyes. So he turned again, hoping it was still in the right direction and kept on. And he knew he had no idea where he was going. Unless he could guess Daniel’s plan…

I had intended to continue with more brand-new material about Daniel and his Escape, but time did not permit (and now I think I like jumping back and forth at this point between the two boysʼ points of view anyway).

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Developments in Quetzal County

For those who were expecting more from Stars in Heaven, we will have to see (I am nearing the end of what I have written in that sci fi tale). ButI have been actually writing again (believe it or not). And, as it has been far too long since I last added anything to fan Daveʼs favorite story, I have a small, entirely new piece of “Mantorville” for today…

Glorious! I do enjoy religious value judgments. So useful.

I told him he had better explain such a bold remark. And he did. His story took my loathing of high school sports several notches into the revolted realm. You see, I have never been a sportsy kind of guy…

He trailed off. I sat there, looking at him, thinking to myself, “You didnʼt have to tell me that, Arkham. Just looking at you tells it all.” Slender but soft. You havenʼt joined any games or activities in all your years at Oakdale. To the best of our recordsʼ knowledge, you have no hobbies, no crafts, no contacts with the outside world — except that Christmas card. You qualify as the loserest loserly character with whom I have dealt. Ever. And your dragging this all out isnʼt helping my attitude any.

But I didnʼt say any of that. Sometimes an analyst hits a stage when the patient seems overwhelmingly annoying. Freud and Jung didnʼt touch on that, just transference. But itʼs a phase a psychiatrist has to watch out for. No matter what happened in sessions, they were going to try your patience well before you got a chance to be helpful. I simply said:

What did he tell you, Mr. Arkham?

He shook his head at me. I told you before, no more “Mr. Arkham.” That was teacher-me, and I am not that teacher any more. Maybe I already wasnʼt when I came to Quetzal County.

Dodging again, I thought. Always ducking and dodging. I needed to hammer him open. If I could without giving into my own frustration with him. But he was bottling everything, always had. Possibly he always would if our sessions didnʼt get him to crack. So hammer I did, trying the direct approach, for once.

Tell me, uh, James. I have noticed something. You are telling things from — what? — a decade ago … in remarkable detail.

I am? All innocence and unaware. Yeah, sure.

Yes, James, you are. Even quoting conversations ten years old in exact detail. …Too much detail, it almost seems.

Too much detail… So? What? Do you think Iʼm making all this up?

Very simply: Yes.

When my secretary types up the transcriptions of our sessions, she will have to use quotation marks. Thatʼs how excessively detailed you are being.

You record these sessions?

Of course. Itʼs a normal tool. I thought you realized that. Every interaction here at the facility is on record in some way or another. Do you object?

Why should I object to anything at all? These are your sessions. No, I thought, theyʼre for you. It just seems funny…

Another drifting away. Another pause. Did these give him time to think? What?

He stirred back into focus almost immediately. You want to know why I remember so clearly?

I wouldnʼt have brought it up otherwise. Possibly too direct with that, Doctor.

Itʼs because I practiced.


Yeah, I practiced remembering. Back then. ʼ93. I decided that summer, once I had moved to Bear River Falls, to start keeping a journal. Things had changed, so maybe it would be interesting. Worthwhile. And I wrote everything down, all about the first days of school and Roger Dodgerʼs antics at the assembly. Frankʼs football injury. And meeting with those two kids after school. I recorded it all. Especially through that winter and into the spring. When everything got strange.

I hadnʼt read anything about a journal in the trial information. Or anywhere else. I told him so.

It never came out, doctor. The day before I was arrested I mailed it off to my sister. To keep it safe. But I had written in it nearly every day until then.

But why get rid of it? Your defense was that you werenʼt the murderer. Wouldnʼt the diary have helped your case?

Maybe. Maybe not. I realized fast that I had been trapped and was caught as neatly and completely as… — My attorney got me to tell him my version. He decided on the defense. I figured, in Quetzal County, knowing what I knew… I was cooked. I felt that even before they actually arrested me. And I feared they were going to get the journals. I didnʼt want that… I didnʼt want it lost.

Does this diary still exist?

I donʼt know. I thought I was saving it by getting it out of my hands. And I was right about that. Even before the cops, someone went through my stuff. At home. At school. They didnʼt even try to be subtle. It happened over that weekend.

What weekend, James?

The big one. After — … after Howie was killed. Before they arrested me. Somebody, maybe several people, tore through my house when I was out on Saturday morning, and I found the same thing on Monday in my classroom. Like they were looking for something. I thought maybe it was my journal because of everything I had written in it. Though I didnʼt know how anyone would know about that. Anyway, it kind of warned me, you know? That maybe I had better protect the notebook. So I mailed it to my sister on Monday after school. Wrapped it in brown aper in the teacher workroom and sent it from the Bear River post office when I got back into town.

So your sister has it? This diary?

I donʼt know. She never responded, never attended the trial. Not that I wanted her to.

And sheʼs never written to you, has she? No matter how many letters youʼve sent to her. It seemed cruel even as I thought it.

Besides, you probably know… sheʼs never written to me… I donʼt even know if my letters get through. If they moved or something. Well, I guess theyʼve never come back, either…

I didnʼt really know anything about the sister. She had seemed unnecessary, outside of the whole thing. But if she had this diary…

Do you think it would help to have the diary, James?

Itʼd be better than me having to tell you everything, I guess. Itʼs hard, and I seem to keep getting distracted down blind alleys, onto things that donʼt matter. Probably.

So even he recognized what was going on.

I had wondered about some of the things you were telling me.

Me, too, doctor. Later, back in my room. But when we were talking, it all seemed… I donʼt know, just what needed to be said.

Yeah. If you were going to avoid getting to the real subject.

So is anything weʼve been talking about today actually important, then?

Today? Yes. Youʼd better believe it. The whole thing turns on Frank in the end. And what happened in Snake Hollow got me concerned.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Fleurs Rouges

For our anniversary, The Lovely One generally receives a dozen red roses.

(“Aha!” You, the francophone, think: “Thus the title of todayʼs piddling post!” — But you would be wrong, my French-prattling friend. Read on…)

As weʼve passed our twenty-fifth several years ago and are closing in on thirty years of marital euphoria, my annual floral present has gotten pretty predictable, especially since she also gets a bouquet of flowers for her birthday in February (and this year a special blog post chock full of poems not exactly just for her). The February flowers are usually whatever the florist interprets from my request for “something springy”  (and it varies, let me tell you, from too many daisies to tiny, plentiful orchid orchids — I  liked that second phrase: please read the first of the two words as a color and the second, plural word as the type of colored flower). But the anniversary bunch has almost always been the predictable and lame twelve-pack of ruby roses (which also sometimes make their overpriced appearance on her desk at work on the Big Romantic Card Holiday, also in February). Rather pathetic and sadly boring, actually.

The hibiscus outdoors before it started its downhill slide (note the red clay pot and the floral buds that never opened, but just fell off)

Janet has made efforts to inspire me to throw my cash away on something less transient (and the sadsack blooms in some of the bouquets some of those florists have cocked together have been miserably over the hill before they even got shoved into a vase). But my eye for jewelry turned repetitious years back, forcing her after more than one unfestive Yule to exchange the lovely gem I had selected for something that doesnʼt resemble in every detail the ring/necklace/bracelet I had already offered years ago, and putting me in furious doubt of my selection abilities and methods. And donʼt even gaily imagine that I could on my own even begin to attempt to pick out clothing for her!

Years ago, we always had green and flowering plants about the house, at one point, back on Arcade Street, dozens on stands filling a whole bay window in the living room. One monster (I forget what it was) grew ten feet tall and had to be staked (with old nylons, naturally) to one of my bookshelves here in our current living room (I think that was the overinflated camel that broke the wifeʼs tolerant back). But she tired of those, although I know I enjoyed the extra wintertime oxygen in the house, and since the early or mid-Nineties our house has been barren of flora — inside (she has always gone wild about potted flowers outdoors in spring, summer and fall — in fact, once I finish typing here I should water the few she has maintained this year, back, now that the drivewayʼs done, in our front yard). However, last winter she unwisely remarked idly that maybe some potted flowers inside might be nice again.

Thatʼs all it took. That innocent little casual utterance stuck clear in my mind, which as she well realizes forgets just about everything — at least all the things that donʼt particularly interest me. And well before our anniversary arrived (some years the flowers have been ordered the morning of the Big Day itself), I was on the phone to her currently preferred florist in Dubuque to lay claim to my chosen flowering plant — an hibiscus!

Janetʼs anniversary gift in all its repotted, blooming glory (and yes, it has a ways to go to return to its former magnificence, but now it blossoms again)

It arrived at her office in a really tiny red clay pot, deeply green and about a foot tall, filled with very red flowers (I donʼt really quite understand how florists can always get any plant to bloom at least for the day of its arrival as a gift). I got to see it when she brought the plant home that evening (I had it sent for Friday, May 21, since the anniversary itself was over the weekend), and I was pleased (that the florist had gotten it right for once and also in anticipation of the lovely thing in our hose all through the winter). We kept it on the dining room table for several weeks, until in the middle of June it was clear the poor thing was ailing — no blooms and tired leaves hanging limp and brown. Janet hoped it just wanted to be outdoors in the summery humidity, but that change made little difference, and the leaves just started to show signs of buggy interest.

I kept watering it and moved the thing into the garage to keep it from pests, but although the move back to semi-interior space seemed to brighten the plantʼs condition a little, it still lagged and never blossomed. We tried taking it back outdoors on the front steps, but the wind one day knocked it over, breaking the pot (at least cracking it plentifully). It was a fortunate accident because that incident forced me to seek out a different, larger pot and transfer our hibiscus. And in the process of moving it, I realized what had been wrong all along: the poor thing was significantly more than seriously potbound (it had just been too many years since weʼd had plants, and I guess we both had forgotten that issue, or that florists always send potted plants in the smallest possible pot from which any plant should be transferred to a more spacious home immediately). Finally stumbling onto the right course of action always makes me feel like a dunce (hmmm… if I am always forced at length into the right thing, maybe I should finally at 56 perceive the bright red indication that I am a dunce).

The repotting worked miracles. Since then the plant has revived brilliantly, blossomed and has retained blooms solidly ever since. The photo records its state back while the driveway installation was occurring, but it still looks as good. I am going to change pots again in just a few weeks to bring it inside, and we hope to enjoy the carmine splendor of Janetʼs anniversary hibiscus right through the dreary, bleak midwinter.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Stars One One

Here is a brand-new portion of the Stars in Heaven story, with a shift in point of view, so all italics I am afraid…

The brief repetition at the start is meant to remind us of where we began.

Today was the day. Daniel had decided: he’d had enough. So today would be the Escape. There would be no turning back…

Daniel was running as quickly as his legs could carry him down the alleyway. At the second intersection he turned left and ran harder, taking the next right and the following left. He had pushed through people rudely and carelessly: his one aim to get out of sight instantly and lose whatever pursuit had developed.

He knew Ghorf would be after him in an instant. He felt himself wishing it had been Ghorf he had kicked rather than the boy. It would have been so sweet. But all in the past now, all behind him…

Orionʼs Horsehead Nebula (again) — oriented as seen in the sky and much less enhanced for color. If you check back and look closely in one previous photo, this is the third time I have featured this astronomical sight.

But the kid had puked all over his leg. Daniel couldn’t stand that. Especially today. This day he needed to be his best, not puked on and stinking like barf. But it was too late to fix that now. It had begun, his Escape.

His wet leg worked with his left to hurry Daniel along. He could smell the kidʼs vomit as he moved, thinking vaguely, as he dodged among people who sometimes recoiled, leaving him some space, smelling the stench themselves, that this was not a good start.

But it was too late to stop. No turning back. He had heard and overheard the phrase when he accompanied his father on the long journeys to town to sell the stars. Once they were underway, after a certain distance, there was no turning back. He had come to that place for himself, in his own life. He had made the break. He had run. Now there was no turning back.

Ghorf would kill him for that confrontation just now if the old man were ever to find or catch him. No turning back.

And he dodged and turned his erratic way through the tangled routes among the thousand booths in If-naryadh’iq squared, listening keenly for outraged noise worse than what he stirred up himself. Ghorf would be after him, even without knowing where Daniel was headed, even oblivious of what Daniel had taken. After that contretemps, the old, fat ogre would be on his tail as quickly as his piggy mind sorted out the details to realize the youth was gone.

But Ghorf was old and fat, while Daniel was young. His father might be stronger, but Daniel has desperation and his dreams to wing his feet. He gloated on that thought, reaching inside his shirt for the little bag, to ensure himself that his treasure was there, safe and with him.

And he collided powerfully with a large woman bending into a booth. He had tried to place his route between her and the kiosk, but something had drawn her interest and hawklike she had moved with amazing rapidity right in his way.

As he tried to wriggle out from beneath her bulk, a huge, moist hand clamped hard on his neck, the thumb all the way up under his ear into the joint of his jaw.

“In a hurry to leave, little thief?” her raucous, city-accented voice wailed from above.

“ — No thief!” Daniel managed to gasp, as she hauled him up into her view.

“What, lad? Pretty convenient accident for one whoʼs no thief.”

“And Iʼm in a hurry.”

“Clearly. And from the country, too. But not in such haste you wonʼt linger,” and she pinioned him against the booth, trapped by her massive, encompassing torso, releasing her grip on his neck and head, “while I make sure you havenʼt…” Her body shifted as she did something he couldnʼt see with his face buried in her bosom. “ — No you havenʼt. All still here.” She sounded only vaguely relieved.

She sniffed and then stepped back further, evidently scenting the still-wet puke on his leg.

“Iʼm no thief. It was just an accident.” Daniel exploded as she stepped back, effectively freeing him.

“But exactly the kind of accident little pickpockets practice to distract someone like me from her purse. Canʼt be too careful these days.” She had a huge lopsided nose squashed in the middle of lumpily shapeless face. But her eyes were large and not menacing, blue. “Go along, boy. If you are in such a hurry you canʼt avoid an obstacle as big as me, you are donʼt have time to be ogling my pert charms.”

And he didnʼt: he could hear exactly the sounds of indignation he had been dreading.

“S — sorry, maʼam!” he coughed with rural good manners as he dashed away, aware she moved immediately into her desired position against the booth.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

“Stars” Ten

So I weakened from my stand a week ago… Here is another dose of the science fiction story Stars in Heaven, which includes some relatively strong language (maybe).

Star Cluster

It would be nice to sleep now. He felt almost as if he were there, asleep, almost at home. Aunt Sarai’s voice seemed to tremble in his ears. But she wasn’t here. She wasn’t. Just Ghorf. And distant Daniel, restive now, and Rimmon and Jiz.

He lifted his heavy eyelids and looked again at the numberless legs and feet churning dustily by. Some were gray, brown, green, blue-shoed, black-shod, red-legged. He couldn’t keep track. Too many legs and twice as many feet. …Maybe not. —Too many anyhow.

Daniel kept looking at the sky. He wanted something to happen. He looked at his uncles, who ignored him, and then finally at his father. Ghorf was staring into the square, oblivious, as usual, to everything but himself.

“Getting late, inn’it?” Daniel was trying subtlety.

“What do you care, kid?” Jism snarled. Ghorf just kept staring away, though a dim sound rumbled in his chest. Daniel seemed poised but frustrated. He waited, but no one else said anything.

“How long we gonna stay here?” Daniel persisted, making his plea considerably more obvious.

Ghorf glared at his son with a nasty grimace. “As long as I say, Daniel. As long as I say.”

“But it’s time we were going… Inn’it?”

“Like I said, Daniel. What’s it matter to you?” Ghorf’s face was taking on its ugly look; that redness made the boy feel queasy. “We got stuff to sell.”

“And none of it’s gone anywhere yet,” Jism contributed, still testy. His acerbic voice twisted around the boy’s head like fumes from day-old empty ale bottles.

“Yeah. So shut yer face and keep still. We’ll go when I say. When I say.”

“Leave him be, Ghorf. This’s gotta be boring for a kid.”

“Shove it, Rim. He’s mine and he’ll mind. And keep his big mouth shut.”

“Like freck I will.” Daniel released what he’d been holding—not all of it, just what had been building up today.

“Huh!? Whadja say, kid?” Ghorf looked purple in an instant.

“You heard me.” Daniel’s face, too, looked nasty. The father and son were glaring at each other like contorted mirrorimages, both filled with a parallel rage. An explosion was coming. Rimmon backed away a step or two, but Jism leaned his knifeface toward the fight.

Ghorf rose to his feet, rumbling, bearlike, his little pigeyes redder than ever. Daniel got up, too, not retreating, glaring directly at his old man. This was it. This was the moment toward which his entire life had been constructed. The tension held yet, poised, nearly in balance.

Ghorf took one step toward his son, his arms swaying, right hand fisted.

Crouched by the boothside, the boy felt sick. Suddenly all his weariness seemed to condense, focus into his stomach and his eyes, the back of his throat. He felt sick. He felt it twisting inside and then rising from his stomach. No longer tired. Sleepiness evaporated in the abrupt biliously acidic feeling that sprouted low and then erupted from beneath his heart.

He vomited. Green and purple smoky liquid spattered the gray-brown dirt beyond his knees, speckling Daniel’s left foot. It smelled like sour wine (like Jism’s voice sounded), like fried vermin for Saturday night supper (When had he had that last? Three months back?) and oat cakes and battery acid all mixed up with snot and other things. He saw, smelled and retched again.

Ghorf reacted first. “Whuh the freck—? Whuddaya doin’, ya mealy brat?”

“Pukin’, seems to me.”

“Lid it, Jiz.”

“Lid yerself, Rim.”

“What’s yer problem?“

“Make the kid stop!” Ghorf’s hand darted at the boy, grabbing his hair.

“Think this’ll bring in business?” Rimmon sneered.

“Let him go, Ghorf. He’s not well.” Jism was defending him? Another hand smacked the hand in his hair; he felt stunned as he was released. Vaguely, he realized that Jism and Ghorf were faced off, glaring at each other, over him. He could feel the heat from their bodies. Daniel stepped closer, beside Jism.

Rimmon was fretting. “Oh, this is good. Business’ll flood in if we’re fighting.”

“It’s yer wife’s slop he’s upchuckin’ there. —Not that I blame him none.” Did Ghorf want everyone against him, all together?

Rimmon held quiet and still. Would he fight, too? The sultry air seemed filled with static electricity, but it was only antagonism, sparking out from everywhere, focused at Ghorf still looming over the boy’s wretched head. The big man was breathing heavily; he’d eaten garlic for breakfast as well. Daniel’s left foot was twisting in the dirt.

The boy felt no better. His gut still coiled, cramped and congealed. And it came again.

All over Daniel’s leg.

“That freckin’ does it! I’m outta here.” Daniel landed a kick with that filthy foot hard in the boy’s gut—once, again; the world looked green; he felt it coming one more time—and Daniel was gone, leaping away and opening a doorway of sunlight and air.

“Daniel!” Ghorf sputtered. “Get back here, boy!”

He spewed once more.

“Ah, shiva! Someone shove a rag in that kid’s mouth.” Ghorf smashed the boy’s head aside with a solid fist and took off himself, chasing Daniel. The boy flopped down in the dirt, into his own vomit, things he saw wrenching sideways, Ghorf’s sandals slapping puffs of dust as he thudded out of sight, sideways. Other feet, too… The dazzling sunlight seemed to dim a bit with each footfall—not-so-bright, faded now, turning to late afternoon, grayer, dimmer yet, going dark, black…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

The Nine of Stars

Nope. Not a new suit in the deck of cards (not even the Tarot deck), although I was pleased to be able to invent a title that suggested just such a novel card. This is just the next piece of the opening chapter/short story from Stars in Heaven. Hey. Itʼs Sunday, and I seem to have fallen into a trap. I will even be generous today and offer nearly a thousand words. Enjoy. I hope.

Reading right to left (like Hebrew or — Rightists gasp! — Arabic), itʼs angry Moose and Squirrel, Dahlink!

Just thinking about the long trek to the city could make him entirely exhausted, although he had slept very well and for a long time each night since their arrival.

Uncle Rimmon’s house lent itself to sleep at night at least. That had surprised him. It was so noisy. Everywhere. But somehow at night, jammed amidst all these people, above you below you all around you, lying on the floor in Uncle Rim’s three-room flat between Daniel and Jism (who snored), believing you’d never fall asleep, wishing for the dream silence of home (once Ghorf had drunk himself unconscious)… suddenly it was morning and you had slept the whole night through, no wakening whatsoever.

Still he felt so tired now, and the things his eyes beheld seemed to be wavering and pulsing in the immense heat.

The journey took forever. Day after day after day, walking the dusty roads away from home, trailing along after Daniel and the two men and the three horses, Ghorf in no mood for rest talk. After about a week they even took lunch while walking. He felt as though he could still touch the fruit juice sticky on his chin and chest, trying so hard to stick his head far forward and bite as he trotted along.

“Move it, ya damn brat. Serve you right to be left out here lost, wouldn’t it?” And a thwack from Ghorf’s big walking stick. “Now keep up!” As if stumbling in pain, his arm or back absolutely useless from the shock, could help him keep up. And don’t beg to ride. The horses were along to carry the stars, not worthless whiners who didn’t know when they had it good. Thought he hurt, did he? Ghorf would show him what real pain was all about, he would. Would he like that, would he?

No matter what in his life, the boy realized of a sudden, there was always a shadow. Not Daniel, though he had been truly terrifying in the past. But Ghorf. Even Daniel’s behavior—first the poundings, then this new thing, this Escape—derived actually from Ghorf, from Daniel’s own turmoil with his father and his ways. The boy wasn’t the only one to suffer from Ghorf’s savagery. Strange as it seemed to realize, he understood now that Daniel suffered too. Ghorf beat him, his own son, just as freely as he battered the boy. Daniel just passed on what he had received, and so the boy took double clubbings. Unlike Daniel he had no one to transfer it onto.

Ghorf. Always Ghorf. His very name the sound of gagging bloody phlegm in your throat.

Ghorf’s nagging, croaking, sneering voice lancing your concentration as you picked stars, worse than thinking of the dust. The dust was always there, omnipresent, but you might just get used to being alone on your own out there in the brilliance of potential death, when suddenly his irritating nonsense filled your helmet and your head. Him sitting back on the veranda, sucking down beers. Ghorf never picked stars—”done enough o’ that when I was a boykid. Your turns now. So get to it! And damn-don’t miss none, neither.”

And your days and nights, daydreams and nightmares for these last six weeks, slogging along the dusty roads to the city. Long days, hard days, waking well before sunrise, choking down cold scraps of last night’s greasy supper—rancid meat you carried most of the way from home, rockhard blackbeans barely cooked, and rice of course—even while you were chasing down the horses and packing up bedrolls and repacking the burdens and making sure the fires were completely out and everything else while Ghorf sat on what Daniel always called his fatass, giving orders.

Whacking you with sticks he’d found, whaling on you when he felt really pissed. Leaving long darkblue welts that slowly turned greenblue then yellowgreen over the long weeks. Chopping right through your skin. “Won’t work, willya? Then bleed fer it, bratkid.”

And Daniel: “Coulda been worse, kid. Coulda been me. Glad you’re along this year. Damn glad.”

But they both got their share. And then some. More than their shares. More than anyone could have ever deserved in a whole long lifetime, in a spacer’s lifetime even. Ghorf seemed almost to feed on their pain, gaining strength from every unjust beating. He was like some dynamic force of nature, bigger and more awesomely powerful than anything the boy’s little mind could conceive. Stronger and more terrifying than he had any need to be.

It had been Ghorf, all along Ghorf that had made Daniel seem so much less consequential. Daniel’s daily torment was a kind of attention, which is why its absence this last year left a longing, that dim, strange yearning of some kind. With Ghorf, inattention was a blessing.

Perhaps it was Ghorf’s neglect since they had arrived that made Uncle Rim’s place seem restful…

From here on, the exposition is pretty much concluded and things start to happen (which may mean this is the last of these posts, too — sorry, Colleen).

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

“Iʼm a substitute for another guy” (or gal in this case)

Corny, but available

Itʼs easy to sub on a short day of school, as I did on Friday for my first paid work since leaving the Census (which ironically reared its presence in my life both Thursday and Friday). Itʼs hard to go home when itʼs hot, even early, as I did on Friday as well. Probably the best part of the substitute teaching I did was getting an air-conditioned room for the hours between 8:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. I would not have had that experience at home. And the teaching went pretty well, too. The kids were fine — with a minor exception toward the end of the day, but I canʼt expect every seventh grader not to behave like a spoiled seven-year-old with intellectual-developmental challenges. Can I? And the kid did complete the work they had — how well is an entirely different question, as is how much s/he kept other students from completing their work further/better. (I probably should have been more aggressive against the kid, but instead s/he has likely earned rural-retard immortality among the minor characters in “Mantorville,” since I found the childʼs name to be almost irresistible for some insignificant villain among the delusional and wicked in Quetzal County.)

It was actually a shock to receive a call to become a substitute teacher for the second day of school (although apparently they needed one for the very first day as well). I guess from having to avoid such work last year until November, I wasnʼt expecting to get my chance so soon (and I took the opportunity to post my schedule of conflicts, for at least the next couple of weeks, in the overly optimistic sense that another call could be forthcoming at any time).

So far in my limited experience as a sub, I have only repeated in science and art. Otherwise, I have taught social studies, third grade, and now business courses. I believe the business was the easiest experience to date. All the fulltime teachers I have briefly replaced had good lesson plans to follow (that usually filled the available time, ever an important issue for a sub: keep those kids busy while Iʼm here!) and pretty well behaved students. I found art to be pretty pleasant, too, and I would guess for the same reason as I did Friday — small classes.

Probably the most taxing work is with elementary kids, who demand and need constant attention. Furthermore, just dealing with them is novel for me. When I got to work with third grade once last spring, not only was everyone of adult age amused (even the high school students), but I had no idea how to handle the most basic daily activities (lunch orders, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, recess dismissal, supervising lunch — about which I have already written). Even in art, supervising the kindergartners was pretty intense (but I think successful). Fortunately at both my levels of teaching with little kids, they themselves kept me to their idea of the straight and narrow, by pointing out what I did wrong — such as not dismissing the class in groups, by, say, rows, instead of as an unruly mass.

I had always felt while actually teaching that I was not cut out for middle school/junior high. My exposure to that age group as a sub has reinforced my preliminary judgment. Theyʼre just too wild and childish for me to instruct validly. Notice it was the seventh graders, still in just their second day “upstairs” as we say in Andrew, and therefore one would presume still terrified and uncertain, who gave me the most issues. (I still havenʼt decided if sustained repetition of “Hershey-squirts” — think about it if the term is new to you, as it was to me, and remember that youʼre maybe thirteen and showing off — is worth sending a constantly giggling/talking whippersnapper to the office. Probably. But it isnʼt my style.) Fortunately, working at Andrew as a sub I can only face middle schoolers for some (possibly most) of a day. Third graders were far better.

Periods on Friday were only a half-hour in length, so the stress level was pretty low. And I got to write, just as I had last school year. Working on Søren and Judah almost side-by-side through what should/may be the climax to “Mistakes by Moonlight,” I scrawled down about a thousand words (five pages more or less, as well as the first two sentences for this post), and thatʼs more than I have done sweltering in the office in the muggy sultriness of these dog days 2010. (I really do miss last summerʼs temperate aridity, no matter how much neighbors, not the ones on our block, and newscasters whined and complained about the coolness a year ago.)

All in all, I felt that my short day of substitute teaching was a better heat-avoidance technique (thanks to my actual teacherʼs air-conditioned room) than a trip to the mall or somewhere equally commercial.

So the start of the school year did mean something important to me. Of course, now I do have to be ready for that phone call at 6:30 (or 7:00) in the morning, just as I have returned from the daily “run”/not-even-a-jog, giving me the opportunity (proper word choice there?) to work that day instead of idling at home as I would otherwise have done.

Oh. For the youthfully illiterate (in rock lyrics), we can thank The Who (meaning Pete Townshend), for the title. Gotta love the greatest rock band of them all: “The song is over / It’s all behind me…” “Rock is dead, they say.”

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.