Sunday, September 17, 2017

This one is not fiction but it's about fiction

This is, ahem, an announcement I have never made before. My novella, Why I Moved to San Francisco, has just been published on and is available as an ebook for $1.99. Why I Moved to San Francisco first met life as an entry in the Three Day Novel Contest, in which participants are asked to write an entire novel (okay, a novella) in three days over the Labor Day weekend. This was in 2007, and, after a few minor revisions, it sat in a drawer until 2017, when production began on the version that you can now download so inexpensively. Most of what you’ll read is what was spewed out on a manic weekend ten years ago, but a lot of the rough edges have been smoothed out. I consider it to be pulp fiction, a lot less concentrated than my poetry and I hope at least as humorous. So now you know. You can find Why I Moved to San Francisco on Just go there, key in my name as author, and you'll find it. Dale

Friday, November 9, 2012

Riders Grey on Metal

"These pills are insanity." The hand holding them in their clear vial up to the sun, the hand its wrist approached by policeblue coat with three wide gold stripes. "These pills are insanity and they are out in the streets today. If you look closely you will see that they are not pills but little green yellow blue red purple orange everycolor men and women..."

The streets full, noon hour the grey of the skyscrapers' concrete glass and steel, men and women all colors of suit their faces painted of flesh but only painted and painted so coarsely that the brushstrokes overpower their features and make them all unrecognizable. They all carry briefcases. Step step out of step all of them the sidewalks grey colored by their misstepping all colors into grey matching the sky, the clouds individual to look closely at their wisping and ephemeral air but all summed together on the winter noonday sky the sky of some solstace they too are grey, featureless the individual silkthreads invisible if not looked for specifically. There is no sun.

The river is grey and he sticks a finger in. Swirling little stones in places above the rocks surely different colors but through the waters all of them grey the current he watches thinking the water could be dust it is so dead. He throws in a stone and the ripples are eaten up by the current and the dust.

Four hundred miles away there is a small earthquake.

The colors swim but only as individual threads.

The sky above the canyon now a little red with sunset, the caverns in the cliffs are still with people watching through the clouds. The pottery and baskets and tanning and foodmaking are over. It is time to do other things. Across the desert from the walls of the cliffs there is little that the people of the houses of the cliffs cannot see. The chanting begins. Its quiet rhythms join a small quiet stream with occasional rapids dark blue in the black of the sight of the night and reflecting of fires tiny in the lowland around it, tiny and seen from the houses of the cliffside, hinting in rhythm of chanting that carries below.

In the canyon between the grey cliffs the people carrying briefcases the people who from the tops of the cliffs look like pills the briefcases nonexistent from that height. The sound of typewriters tribal drums for the feet of the marchers below from cliff to cliff and across the wild blacktop the metal insects it seems from the top the metal insects in a long line a long line of grey smoke and waiting. In the sunset of the cliffs there is a stirring and the starting of an emptying.

Another stone. Another small quake. The city is unshaken.

The head helmeted of a conquistador.


His plume.

Also irrelevant.

The police captain his lecture over puts the pills back into his pocket to seal them later inside the vault with the rest of the pills he uses as exhibits for his lectures to rookies and boyscouts watching his every move and he prepares to leave the lectern and they applaud. He leaves the stage in the rain of applause and outside the sun disappears behind clouds.

"Again?" he is asked.

"No, we will leave the city be. We will work on another part of the river. The city is not wet enough yet."

The skies swirl above the cliffs, another storm coming and the metal below in the darkness of the canyon the metal beings crowded clouds taking on real shapes now, thunder for the thunder of the riders grey on metal, thunder for the thrower of stones.

And when the stone is finally thrown the glass will be eight feet deep in the streets and the sky will have colors again.

Written in 1972.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Untitled Story Written When I Was 13


Slowly he crawled back, back from the flashlights, back from the approaching voices that could seal his doom. His eyes were large and staring with stark fear as he got to his feet and scrambled head-on into the alley. They were after him; he must run, and fast.

He ran, stumbling as he went, into the alley. He tripped over something and fell to his knees, only rising to race into the foggy darkness ahead. There was a way out; he knew it.

Again he fell, over what he knew not, but this time he heard a cracking noise and felt a sharp, stabbing pain in his right arm that didn't cease. Again, with his good arm, he pushed himself to his feet and ran on, forgetting the pain.

He staggered on wildly, until, panting, with sweat covering his forehead and pouring into his eyes and blinding him, he came to the end of the alley. A wall, one of flimsy boards, blocked his way; that was all.

With all his might, he crashed through the barrier, and, as he lay on the other side, in relative safety, he felt the taste of blood and the heavier weight of the life-liquid unite with that of the sweat covering his throbbing head. but, despite the pain, he smiled.

"Where the hell did he go?" he heard a deep, gravelly voice ask.

"Dunno," replied one of higher pitch. "Seen him around here someplace. Must've gone somewheres else. He ain't 'round here nowhere.

"Coulda gone down one of them side streets, though. I think I seen someone down Lenin Road."

"Let's go then."

The leisurely pace of the gendarmes uneased the escapee. If he made any kind of a sound...

The shuffling steps disappeared gradually in the darkness. The pain had stopped in his head, but he still grimaced with the wild throbbing of his arm.

So he lay there awhile, thinking when the pain began to decline or his arm began to numb... he couldn't tell which. His orders: report on the riots in Statstown, discover ringleader, discover reason.

And now, his task was again to discover, to discover how to get out of this hotbed of social and political rebellion.

His arm, for which he had made a splint out of his jacket and boards from the fence, felt better now; it pained him less. And now, with sleep, his mind began to go back, back to the beginning of his assignment and his arrival here.


Joe Johnson departed from the train. Here it was; Statstown was just as they had said it would be.

It was a rural community, with wooden sidewalks and a little red schoolhouse up on the hill. A grizzled old-timer sat in front of the general store gossiping with his friends and passers-by. A younger man sat by the window below a sign painted: STATSTOWN RAILROAD - TICKET OFFICE. He was wearing a dark handlebar mustache and rimless metal glasses, with a vest over his white shirt and a blue cap covering most of his hair.

But the women surprised him most. None of them looked like they belonged in this century. Floor-length skirts scattered dust as their wearers traveled, and none of the women wore any kind of make-up. And all of them wore the same kind of sun-bonnet, and the same color, a dark gray.

He chuckled and nearly laughed aloud as he stepped onto the boardwalk and what he had been informed was the only boarding-house in town, the Grand Hotel. How could one complain of riots in a town like this? An orderly town like this couldn't have a riot; it was just too orderly.

Upon entering the hotel, Johnson couldn't help noticing that he was the center of attention of the hangers-on. Strangely, all of the men had handlebar mustaches, wore white shirts and dark vests, and had some kind of headgear covering their heads. The women all wore the long skirts and bonnets of the last century. But they all stared at him; that's what struck him. All with the same type of vacant stare.

A short, slim man strutted up to Joe. He was dressed the same as the others, but he displayed more life than the rest of them.

"A room, sir?" he smiled.

Joe nodded.

"Just one left," grinned his host, "Number 13. You aren't superstitious, are you? Few are."

"No," replied Johnson, "I'm not. Where's your sheriff?"

"Off on vacation," beamed the innkeeper. "I'm the law around here now."

"When will he be back?"

"Dunno," replied the short native, his features now growing darker. "Didn't tell me. Didn't tell anybody."

"Oh," the visiter said. "Could you guys direct me to my room?"

"Yeh," smiled the little innkeeper, who motioned to a couple of uniformed brutes in the crowded lobby, and to a flight of stairs.

"It's up here. We use the police here for bellboys," he chuckled. "Nothing else for 'em to do around here."

They had reached the top of the stairs by this time, and one of the uniformed brutes, overloaded with three suitcases, not all Johnson's, tripped over the top step, and Joe jumped back as the gendarme's hat fell off.

Instead of hair on his head, his entire skull was an inward-curved disc. Joe looked up into two guns aimed at his head.

"So now you know," growled the keeper. "This is my kingdom. Only I am independent All the others do only what I dictate. I fixed it that way.

"You are one of Them. That's why I'm imprisoning you. But if you want to become -"

"Never," yelled Johnson, who was now surrounded by robots.

"Very well, then," spoke the innkeeper. "Throw him in with the others!"

Four of the largest stooges threw Johnson through an open door and everything went black.


"You okay, mister?" came a light, high, musical voice out of the dark.

It was a small room, or so it seemed, and it was crowded with dozens or more-or-less human shapes. About twenty feet above them blazed a frame of light, like that around a door to a lighted room as seen from the dark.

"Ya took one hell of a fall, mack," added a huskier voice.

"I'm okay," stuttered Johnson. "Where am I? Who are you?"

"I'm Marie," began the female voice. "Marie Smith. We're imprisoned in the cellar. That," she added, meaning the door,"is the second floor. Who are you?"

"Joe Johnson. Just call me Joe. How do I get out of here?"

"You surrender," spoke an ancient voice from the back of the room. "You surrender or starve. You'll never get out alive."

"There must be a guard..." began Joe.

"And a brutal one," interrupted Marie. "He stands in the doorway and taunts us."

"I'll get out of here," growled Joe, drawing a pistol from his jacket. "I've got one shot left. He gets it."

"You'll never get out alive," mumbled the old voice.

As the minutes rolled by, he listened to the soft voice of Marie telling him why they were there. They were the non-conformists, the defiant ones. She had been there for less than a week; she, too, had been a traveler.

Just as she had begun her story, the door opened and one of the uniformed brutes stood there, and yelled.

"You'll never get out of here," he laughed. "You'll all die here. Who wants to be put out of his misery?"

He then drew a pistol and fired half a dozen shots across the room. Joe pulled down on a mass of dark brown hair, and pushed its owner, Marie, into the corner as the monster re-loaded his pistol and started shooting again.

Slowly, Joe took dead aim at the beast's head, just between the eyes. He fired. The brute crumpled and fell to the cellar.

"He's mine!" yelled Joe, as he took the guard's weapon and a rope from around the corpse's waist. There was a noose on the end of it.

Above, just beyond the door, there was a stub for the purpose of holding the guard's rope if he fell into the cellar. Taking careful aim he threw the noose-end of the rope for the stub. He missed. He threw again and missed. The third time, however, he hit his mark, and the rope held.

"I'll get 'em all for you, Marie," he vowed as he climbed up the wall to freedom. "I'll kill all of 'em!"


"You okay, Joe?" He heard Marie's voice.

Slowly he opened his eyes and liked what he saw. She was a short girl, thinned by nearly a week of imprisonment. The life and love of life still blazed in those brown eyes, however. And a smile nearly split her face.

"Oh, Joe," she shrieked as she fell into his arms.

Beyond, the innkeeper staggered forward, muttering, "Master! Master!"

The keeper then bowed what was left of his head. The top of his head was gone. Instead, there was a curved disc of metal. That was all.

Marie smiled. "Now you are master here," she said.

-- 1963

Thursday, April 15, 2010

O Father

Jacobus Josephus stepped over the bottom of the picture frame and down to the museum floor. He felt the pleasant pull of his first steps in every muscle of his body, a physical joy at leaving what had been his frame of reference for what must have been a hundred years, since they'd moved the painting to this building.

He walked to the center of the floor. Somehow his steps weren't wobbly. Walking was natural to him even though his last half-memory of walking was four centuries old, when he'd found himself formed out of slaps and strokes of paint as the image of a self-important nobleman who'd posed for his full-length portrait, who had probably longed for the physicality of movement almost as much as Jacobus had in the hours before he'd actually stepped outside the picture frame.

He looked back at the frame. There was a long expanse of bare canvas down the middle of the picture, surrounded by details of the room in which the nobleman had stood for his portrait. Much more cluttered than the room he'd seen the last few decades, with the framed landscapes, still lifes, and depictions of people he'd seen lined against the three walls he'd been able to see, and the mysterious glass cases, two of them, standing on square wooden legs before him. On the wall beside the painting he'd inhabited were two other large portraits, one of a woman who may have been Spanish, the other of a Dutch clergyman. Beyond them, on either side, were doors that seemed to lead to other rooms.

He circulated the walls, looking into the eyes of the people in the paintings. None of them responded, none looked back, none flinched or turned or brushed themselves from the touch of his breath. He was alone. Even the echoes of shoes on the parquet floors were absent. He heard only the constant breath of what he'd always thought of as some kind of air machine that kept the atmosphere here so constantly comfortable.

He stepped to the middle of the floor, looked into the nearer of the two glass cases. There, in miniature, were models of three rooms of a mansion he did not know, with stiff little dolls wearing the clothing of people he might have known, but didn't recognize. A short, dark-haired noblewoman was talking to a taller blond military officer in one room. In another room, one of the household servants watched two small children play on the floor. In a third room, an older man who may have been master of the house examined a painting on the wall that resembled the one of the Spanish lady that had stood next to him a few minutes ago.

He turned and looked into the other glass case. And was met with surprise. There were figures here, too, in a set of rooms, but the rooms were those of the museum, and the people were people he'd seen there, looking at the art. And, unlike the figures in the other case, they moved. The tall African man with the wild hair and the paint-splattered blue pants was passionately addressing the young red-haired woman who was usually there with a small red-haired child, waving his arms and looking as intense as he usually did when he stared at the paintings ten minutes at a time. The small, fat, bald-headed man in the grey suit looked into one of the glass cases, in much the posture that Jacobus had taken, and very occasionally rocked side to side. The white-haired couple in checked sweaters sat on one of the benches, quietly talking as the small red-haired child and another child played on the floor.

He looked up, shook himself, and walked through one of the doors into another room.

The museum took up a very large building. Jacobus followed the doorways from room to room. One series of rooms featured works from the Middle Ages, another from ancient Rome. Some of the rooms had art and glass case displays from periods and places he did not know. Some of them he could guess - China, the New World, the Muslim lands - but others were strange, though some seemed somehow related, in custom or technology, to his own world. The signs seemed to be in English, of which he spoke and read little, and were of almost no help to him in understanding what he saw.

It wasn't until he reached the rooms that seemed to have to do with far ancient days that he found another glass case with people that moved.He saw in the signs the word neolithic , which he understood to have something to do with newness and stones, maybe an age, a relatively recent one, of a technology in which people still relied on stone tools.

The case was a large one, with a large number of small people working and talking in a relatively large landscape. A fishing boat was being unloaded. A tree was being harvested. A field was being planted. Three quarters of the sides of the display were defined in relief with the shapes of trees. There was a small cluster of buildings, on top of one of which a man was sleeping. Several men and women in front of the building were chatting. Nobody moved much from where they were, but they were definitely alive. Jacobus leaned on the top of the glass and watched them for what must have been quite a long time.

Slowly the man on top of the roof awoke, rolled over, and looked up at Jacobus. The face Jacobus saw was very nearly his own.

I was standing in front of the house of Jarah, talking with Jarah, her husband, and her two daughters. Suddenly Dlent, who had been sleeping on the roof after a night guarding the crops from wild beasts, started shouting. I looked up at him. His eyes were wild and he was pointing at the sky.

"Forgive me, o Grmil!" he shouted. "O Father of us all, o god of barriers and forests, I am too humble to look at you! Please forgive my unimportant soul!"

I looked up, which I hadn't all morning. it had been a clouded, nasty day and I hadn't wanted to remind myself of that fact.

The image of a man, in white tunic and beard trimmed in the style of our people, took over a good portion of the sky. He was looking directly at Dlent in what I would have interpreted as surprise and amazement in a mortal, and seemed to disappear in the clouds. I could see his face and his huge arms, hands, and chest, but that was all.

Why was the god of barriers and forests looking at us?

The entire village looked up after Dlent's scream. No one ran. Where was there to run to? Grmil, as I've said, was huge enough to take up much of the sky, and everyone could see him. Suddenly Grmil receded, first his face, then his arms and hands, and the sky was again a cool grey mystery.

The day of the vision of Grmil was the first day of the Great Change. Despite everybody's fears, nothing really went wrong. The crops grew and the wild beasts stayed away. Natak gave birth to her child, a perfectly normal daughter who, she said, looked a lot like her husband Tunt. Tunt, the one in our village most familiar with Grmil, examined the perimeters of the village and the edge of the deep, dense forest that surrounded us, and found nothing to be alarmed about. But the Great Change had begun, and it had begun with Dlent's dreams.

Dlent had never shown any great affinity with the spirits, save for his hide-paintings, in which most of the gods had shown a certain resemblance to Dlent himself. Most of his goddesses had at least some resemblance to Natak, although, as I said earlier, Natak's baby had no resemblance to Dlent. Most of us just figured that this was due to a certain limitation to Dlent's talent as an artist, but his depictions were otherwise fine so we were happy. Now, however, the entire village had seen Grmil, and we realized that Grmil looked just like Dlent.

Dlent started dreaming that there were holes in the forest, that we could walk through them to other lands, lands as different from ours as the further reaches of the sea. He dreamed of other tribes on the other side of the forest, tribes that we hadn't seen since before the Great Sickness that had made our village so much smaller so many years ago that none of us had been alive at the time, tribes that were as invisible to us as the gods had been until now. Tales of lands beyond the forest had always appealed to us, because we knew that there would eventually be more of us and that we would need the land, just as we had before.

The great god Grmil, Dlent told us, had taken him to the other side of the forest in his dreams. There had been vast meadows there, bodies of water even larger than our sea, and a huge mountain which, when he and Grmil ascended it, afforded a land of gods and goddesses, including Grmil himself flanked by a woman in a ground-length garment and a man in a strange tunic that was all black except for an oddly shaped white patch over his chest. With every dream, the land became clearer and more expansive. Dlent became quieter and calmer. It seemed that this land had somehow taken his anger away from him and given him a certain dreaminess.

Dlent continued making his paintings. They, too, had changed. The gods no longer all looked like Dlent. The goddesses no longer all looked like Natak. Most of them looked like people we had never seen, people with strange eyes, strange physiques, strange colorings of skin and hair. Dlent insisted that this was what our deities really looked like, that he had seen them, really seen them, in his dreams.

Dlent also insited that he could guide us to the new land, that he knew exactly where to cut through the forest, and that this new land was more real than the one in which we lived now. Did any of us actually remember going out into the vast sea to catch fish? Did any of us actually remember planting the trees and crops that we saw around us? This was because they were all illusion, and the place he would take us to was real.

Tunt didn't like any of this. He knew more about our deities than Dlent ever would, even though he never spoke as much as Dlent. He also thought that Dlent was doing this because he, Tunt, had won over Natak and now lived with her in her house, and that Dlent was still angry and jealous. But Tunt was quiet about this, as Tunt was quiet about most things.

Dlent's stories became more and more vivid. Soon he talked about nothing else. He began work on a great cutting tool, one that would cut through the widest and thickest tree in the forest, and started talking about tying it to the trunk of our finest fruit tree as one would the point of a spear, to cut through.

I was skeptical about his stories at first, indeed was one of the last allies of Tunt, who at first told Dlent that he should get more sleep and finally accused him of blasphemy, especially after hearing his new description of the gods and goddesses, and even more after hearing him say that he wanted to chop down the Tree of Fruit to use it as a handle for the giant cutting tool. The Tree that had been given to us by Marwa, the goddess of growing things, whom Dlent had blasphemously described as a woman with long black hair who wore a tunic that went down to her feet.

But Dlent's descriptions were so vivid, his belief in his visions so total, that eventually everybody in the village, even Tunt, was convinced that they were true. It took a full day to cut down the Tree of Fruit, and several more days to smooth and shape it into a handle, but at last it was done, and the great cutting stone attached to its tip.

With Dlent's guidance, we carried it to the proper place to begin our work.

Jacobus Josephus wandered the floors of the building nightly. He grew familiar with all the rooms, and figured out a raw chronological sequence to them. He could see far into the future, ever evolving fashions in clothing and art, a stream of inventions that were both mind-boggling and totally logical, cities that may have been cities or may have been mere models.

And every once in awhile he would see the figures in the glass cases come alive. Sometimes, but only sometimes, they would have changed their positions. He grew familiar with them, gave them names, histories, a few genealogies from the inhabitants of other cases.

He got to know the people in the paintings, and the sculpted people, too, but they never moved and were thus less interesting. As he observed these people more and more, he realized that God, too, must be lonely sometimes.

I was far from the blade of the tool as we battered it aginst the widest tree of the forest. The bark chipped off fairly easily, but none of us was ready for what lay beneath it. At first I thought it was stone, but it wasn't. It was a strange, clear material, much like obsidian but even more fragile, and it looked like the entire tree was made of it. A shard of it lay on the ground near the tree. I reached down and touched it, and cut my hand. Whatever we had done, we had clearly offended Grmil. Grmil had certainly not told Dlent to do this in his dream. Had Dlent been fooled by a demon? Had he lied?

And we had certainly offended Marwa, too. There would be no fruit from the Tree of Fruit again, and there would be no guarantee that Marwa would bless us with other crops anytime soon. Not after what we had done.

And it was Dlent's fault. As soon as Tunt recovered from the shock of what the tree really was, I knew that he would take the lead in doing something about our transgression.

Jacobus Josephus circulated among the exhibits by night. By day he slept in a cabinet in what seemed to be a warehouse room. And lay in anticipation of what he would see in the night ahead.

Tunt had decided that Dlent's punishment should be one of fire, and enough of the village had agreed with him that, after sedating Dlent with the pulverized roots of one of the ground plants that grew near the village, we lead him to the Tree of Fruit, which we had planted in the ground as a stake, and piled dried tree limbs around his feet. Tunt himself, the closest in the village to the two offended gods, began setting the fire.

Jacobus Josephus returned to the room of the neolithic people and their tools and sad battered gods. The scene in the glass case had changed drastically. The tree was gone. The largest of the trees at the edge of the tableau had been hacked crudely, all the paint gone now from a long strip of it and the glass behind it exposed and chipped. The entire village was gathered around a huge stake, to which was bound the man who looked like Jacobus. He appeared to be drugged. One of the villagers kneeled by a large pile of wood at the man's feet, and seemed to be trying to set it on fire.

The fire caught. Tunt slowly rose and stepped back.

Jacobus saw smoke rising from the pile of wood. Without thinking, he unlatched the top of the glass case, reached in, and grabbed the pole on which the man who looked like him was bound, then unbound the man and threw the stake back into the case. He looked gently into the face of the little man in his hand. The man, despite being groggy, looked terrified.

Suddenly the sky seemed to open and a huge hand reached down and pulled the Tree of Fruit from the ground. The fire burned impotently where the stake had been. The most horrifying aspect of all was the face that dominated the sky for a few seconds. It was that of Dlent, only much much larger.

Jacobus looked closely at the little man, who squirmed in his hand and then lay back. What was he to do with him? He didn't know why he did what he did next, but it seemed the only thing to do.

Jacobus ran through the halls of the museum until he came to the painting that he had once stepped out of, and held the little man up to the vacant space in which he remembered standing for four hundred years.

"This, little man," he said, "is where we both come from."

He came closer to the painting and touched the little man to the canvas gently, so that the little man's arm barely met the canvas. The little man faded, that's the only word Jacobus could think of, and he felt coolness in his hand where he had held him. And the space in the painting began to grow color.

The little man appeared on the canvas and began to expand until he was no longer little, until he fully filled the space Jacobus had taken in the painting. His coarse white tunic changed shape, too, flowing down his arms and down his legs to his knees, and his sandals grew into boots. A ruff appeared at his neck. Stockings covered his legs. The material of his tunic refined itself from dyed animal hair to silk.

Jacobus stepped back, looking in awe at this image of himself.

The Tree of Fruit fell from the heavens and landed just outside the houses of the village, pointing itself toward the tree we had managed to wound before. There was no sign of Dlent.

Tunt was apologetic. I was the one who suggested that we re-tip the Tree of Fruit and continue cutting into the large tree. To do otherwise would offend the gods, that was sure. Tunt agreed. He seemed subdued but still very much the one closest to the gods.

It wasn't until the next day that Jacobus returned to the room where he'd once inhabited a picture frame. The man who had taken his place in the painting now looked every bit the conceited duke who once had stood for his portrait. He said hello to the paintings on the wall, to the statues, to the little people in the glass cases. He took a deep breath and sighed before he went over to the neolithic room.

All the little people in the neolithic case were gone, as was their boat. On one side of the case, in the large tree in the center, was a hole almost large enough to put one's whole hand into. Jacobus lifted the top off the case and set it carefully on the floor. He reached into the hole and felt around. Little trees. Water. Something slick that felt like wet grass.

He took his hand out and put his fingers to his nose. Grass. Definitely grass.

He wondered if they were chanting hymns to him and what those hymns would sound like. Sometimes a god is very lonely.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Paper Chase

It was just a small piece of paper, about the size of a page from a pocket notebook, folded in at the bottom so that it looked like it had two front legs. But it was on the supply room floor, my supply room floor, and nobody leaves their junk on the floor of my supply room. So I finished piling up the boxes I was piling up, and then went back to get it, and of course it was gone. That bugged me. Nobody messes with my supply room.

The piece of paper'd given me the willies, though. It was so perfect - the top part completely straight and flat, not messed with at all, and the little legs so perfect, folded down from the rest of the paper, then bent into two little legs that looked like they could have run by themselves. It had looked alive, maybe asleep. It was the real willies, not the vague kind of creepiness that I got sometimes at the lunch table when Larry went into his UFO stuff.

Larry was this guy over in personnel, this old hippie guy with at least two degrees from big colleges who got a job here and stayed. He claimed he was a musician but all he talked about was this weird stuff - conspiracy theories, UFO abductions, real ghost sightings, that kind of thing - and once he got on a jag he just kept going and sometimes his stories just got creepier and creepier.

So at lunch the day I'd seen the piece of paper I came in to the lunch alcove and here was good old Larry, expounding on one of his "true" stories.

"It was back in the 1850's in England," Larry was saying, taking one hand off his gigantic sandwich to brush back his hair, "in February, and it had been snowing rather heavily. People woke up and found these footprints, which looked like little hoofprints, and which went over fences, walls and housetops as well as the ground, thousands of footprints that went on in a trail about a hundred miles long. Nobody could figure out what the thing was that had made them. It must have been really agile to go over fences and walls, and really fast to cover a hundred miles in one night..."

"It must have been some kind of prank," interrupted Sylvia, the ex-hairdresser who worked in accounting.

"Really unlikely," said Larry. "If it was a prank, it must have been coordinated among about fifty people. And anyway there were no human footprints anywhere near the tracks. And they went on top of walls. And even up to a lake and on in a straight line on the other side."

Larry was winding up to his grand finale.

"And they were little, like hooves. People called them... the devil's footprints..."

Larry's stories never really bothered me, although some of them gave a couple of the more squeamish people at work nightmares. The only thing that gave me nightmares was what happened to my buddy Dean about ten years before.

Dean and I were drinking buddies, used to go to this dive bar in Oakland and then whichever one of us was less smashed, usually me, would drive the other one home before heading home himself. We'd pick up the other car the next morning.

One night we were both pretty ripped on beer and Irish coffees, and decided to call it a night early, before the place closed and while there were still women on the street to look at. Since we'd gotten a lot of caffeine into our veins along with the alcohol, we were pretty awake and probaly thought we were more sober than we really were.

Dean was clearly more wrecked than I was, so I drove, as usual, which meant Dean was riding shotgun and watching the sidewalks more than I was.

"Hey, Ned, look at that one!" yelled Dean, and I looked and had to swerve to keep the car pointing the same way as the street. Dean was pretty loud, too, and when he did his yelling routine the object of his observations would usually look over at us looking pretty offended.

The game kept going until Dean got really excited.

"Hey, Ned!" he yelled. "Look at the fucking tits on that one! She looks like..."

He never finished the sentence. I looked, too, and must have turned my body when I looked because suddenly there was this red pickup truck right in front of us, going way too fast with the driver looking way too scared, and there was this big crunch and this big bang and this big jolt and I fell against the steering wheel. Dean didn't have any steering wheel to fall against, or any seatbelt to hold him back, and he went right through the windshield and almost severed his head. I can still see the shock on his face and the blood shooting out of his neck onto the hood and the windshield of the pickup.

And you know what? There hadn't been any woman there at all where Dean had pointed. It had all been a joke.

Dad got me a good lawyer and I got off with a DUI since the pickup had been going so fast. Dean's funeral had been a small one. (Not many of our drinking friends showed up for it.) But I kept seeing Dean's head in my dreams (and sometimes thought I saw it outside of my dreams) for years. I took medicine for the nightmares and it didn't do any good. I stopped drinking. After all, Dean was dead and who was there left to drink with? I got this job and the dreams subsided and I worked for the company for years.

I was still thinking about the piece of paper when I got home. It had looked so weird, like a flat lizard ready to pounce, that I couldn't get it out of my mind. The more I thought about it the more I saw eyes on it, and little claws on its feet, and a long tail swinging in fascination behind it as it stared at me.

So I sat down in my big green recliner and watched tv for a couple of hours, comedies (which I hardly ever watch), not the news, not cop shows. Once, when I looked up at the refrigerator, I saw the paper lizard, staring at me, its tail swinging in a regular rhythm like some machine in a hospital. And I could swear it was drooling.

I slept about five minutes at a time that night, waking up over and over again after dream after dream about the paper monster.

The nightmares continued, night after night, although I learned to sleep more despite them. Sometimes Dean's voice was in them, sometimes accusing me of actually murdering him. Sometimes Larry's voice was in them, too, with more of his UFO mumbo jumbo. Larry's stories at work got harder and harder to take.

And I kept seeing the monster. At home. Following me on the sidewalk. In the trees. It would always duck away when I looked, especially fast if I turned my whole body when I looked back at it. I turned my body more and more when I looked back at it.

People started asking me how I was doing, if I had something, if I was sleeping enough. My manager told me I should get a girlfriend. I don't want or need a girlfriend. I've been pretty much of a loner. Always. I did get a prescription for something to help me sleep, though, and I saw the monster less and less in dreams and in waking life.

One day at lunch, Larry was into a real whizbanger.

"And these things didn't start with flying saucers," he was saying, leaning on both arms and leaning foward so that, tall man that he was, he took up a huge amount of the table. "People talked about alien abductions in the Middle Ages, even though then it was seductions by demons rather than abductions by space people. The space people we see, little green reptillian beings, even look a lot like the demons people saw then. And, around the world, space aliens tend to look like the supernatural beings that people there used to believe in. In parts of South America, they're big and hairy, like..."

"Are any of them seducers?" asked Sylvia.

Larry looked startled. He apparently hadn't been expecting to be challenged and it sort of took the wind out of him. "Perhaps," he said. "I really don't know."

The dreams started up again, this time centering more on space aliens. The paper monster was now a space alien, and he (it was now a he) was connected up with lawyers and corporate bureaucrats. I changed prescriptions, which helped a little but not as much as the first time around. I got into UFO and conspiracy websites on the Internet, and subscribed to several conspiracy and UFO magazines. Larry started sounding more and more like an amateur, and after awhile I started having lunch on my own. People started asking me how I was, was i losing weight, why didn't I eat lunch with everybody else like I used to. I couldn't tell them the truth, that I was way beyond them now, that I was really enlightened about the way the whole world works. But I was getting thinner, and I could see dark circles around my eyes.

And, of course, I started seeing the monster in real life again. And he was slower and slower to disappear, and was starting to growl.

Then one night I had a dream. I was wandering a moonscape, a big red moonscape with stars twinkling in a deep black sky. The monster was there, too, somehow physically filled out although he was still thin as a piece of paper. He started talking to me, although in my doctor's voice instead of in Larry's voice, and then in a raspier version of Dean's voice, and started filling me in on the things I didn't know about alien abduction. How everyone who was abducted wound up on this same planet we were on. How they only saw each other occasionally, and weren't much of a community. That we could look down on Earth, but only in our dreams, and could never, ever change the past or future there. I suddenly felt really lonely.

Then I woke up, felt pressure on my chest, and opened my eyes. There it was, sitting on my chest, eyes open yellow and bulging, squatting like a frog, and, I swear, sweating.

I didn't feel afraid at all.

"Now I understand," I said.

"No, you don't understand anything." Its voice was deep and almost unbelievably course, like a cross between a bullfrog and a saw cutting through a pillar of cardboard. "I've been watching you for years, since you murdered Dean. And crippled that truck driver. And then you went your merry little self-centered way as if nothing happened, hurting people right and left and not even noticing."

"I didn't murder Dean. It was an accident. A horrible accident."

"Oh yes you did. Don't you remember? When he went crazy yelling that he'd seen that woman and you looked for her and there was no one there, you reached over and unbuckled his seatbelt. That's why you swerved..."

"I did not. I don't remember anything like that..."

"Oh yes you do. You were mad at him for the joke. You were mad at him because you had to drive him back again and he was having fun and you weren't. And you were much drunker than you thought."

I thought back, and images started coming back to me. I felt my hand reaching across Dean's belly and pulling the latch to his seatbelt. I felt the steering wheel pull in the other direction. I felt like throwing up. He was right. I'd killed Dean.

"i'm here to take you." That voice. "Your last dream was accurate about where you're going. You're due to spend the rest of your life in a wasteland."

He opened his mouth, which was like the thin edge of a piece of paper opening, and I saw his huge, sharp, orange teeth, which he licked with a throbbing red tongue that was rasped like a cat's.

"Your dream was accurate. But you have no real idea what your new life, if you want to call it that, is going to be like."

Of course, he lied. I'm not on a lunar landscape at all. I'm here, in your dream. I'm scaly, clawed and horned, whatever evil you imagine me to be. And you should really be afraid. I'm real. You can smell my sweat. And now I have friends. Not like Dean, but real friends who are as evil as I am. And they're all here with me. In your dream. But not necessarily just in your sleep.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Last Date

it's like trying to break up with someone you still love
and you can't give it up
her hand
runs cold up your arm
like a vein
to your heart

still you object within yourself
how can you deny those vacant eyes
eyes vacant with love
she loves you
your change will change her too

Two Old Warriors Get Nostalgic

when we would eat the knuckles
off the corpses that still had them
and wash them down with pus
just beginning to turn green
were the good times
kids today
never have it so good