Time Machine Clouds

Time Machine Clouds.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

She’s scared of me I can tell.

Not that I’ll do some horrible damage.

But that I’ll just mess up my own heart and mind with memories that aren’t even mine.

Because I’m a train with several wings.

And the stops we make are to all sorts of different places at the same time.

The steam stack release like time machine clouds… Puffing.

The whistle long and guttural and hopeful.

People pattering about on the platforms in clothes appropriate for the various times.

But I have no idea where to get off or if I even can.

I’m somehow glued to the seat like in a dream.

All I can do is look out the window and scream.

But then I settle into the movement, a verdant massage.

Like somewhere in Italy, the sky is hot, the clouds are sweating, the blue is melting.

My guts are wallowing in upended nerves, I need to catch my breath for just a moment.

The conductor walks by and hands me a package wrapped in yellow.

He tells me not to open it until I get to my final destination.

“In case it’s a bomb,” he bends and whispers. He straightens up and reaches into his pocket and pulls something out. “Peanuts?” he asks.

“If only there were an ocean,” I answer. “I’m afraid of choking.”

He takes offense, snaps his heels together and walks off. I can hear his voice in the narrow distance trail off. “Peanuts…”

I look out the window to remind myself I’m on a train and not an airplane, but then that’s where I am wrong. The meadows of white clouds below my feet correct my thinking, my dreaming, my pure reality.

I look down into my lap and I am still holding the package wrapped in yellow. I don’t care what he said, and I open it anyways. The sound of ripping paper wrestles some others from sleep. Some moan and groan and look around. There’s a small box beneath the paper. I hold it to my ear, and I can hear something skittering about and breathing.

I open the box and a yellow canary flies out. It flutters all about the cabin. It bumps into people’s heads, chirps, and claws. Other passengers are flailing their arms and hands and teeth. One man tried to swallow it. Another man was screaming and tried to open the emergency exit door. Because of a bird? A canary? What a fool, I thought. And yet another man had to punch him in the face to knock him out and tame his irrational outburst.

Then the turbulence came as we were descending into… Denver, I suppose. The Rocky Mountains can be a bit rocky. The toasted landscape below is topped with a tab of buttered pollution. It grossly melts. The skyscrapers poke through it all.

I get that weird feeling in my stomach as we quickly come down, the ground is rushing by, the wheels hit and there’s that momentary rough nudge. The voice of the pilot comes on over the sound system. Most of the time, you can never understand a damn word they say. But this time it was clear. “Nailed it!” she said. The other passengers laughed and cheered. Had we been in some sort of danger? I wondered to myself. I guess it didn’t matter anymore.

Inside the terminal of Denver International, I was the only one remaining at the luggage carousel. I watched it go around and around and around. There were no more bags. They finally shut it down. A man came along. His head was down, and he was sweeping the floor. Then all the lights went out and it was very quiet. I ignited the flashlight on my cell phone and began to walk. My footsteps fell heavy and loud on the tiled floor. I was always the last one to depart.


The Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming – 5

For Gravy

In the toiled tick-tock of a fat blue dusk, Steel Brandenburg III stood at the stove in the kitchen of his grossly overpriced apartment on the west side of Berlin, Wyoming.

He was frying two tombstone-shaped slabs of reduced-sodium SPAM in a heavy black iron skillet. He thought about life as the meat sizzled and popped and filled the room with the smoky smell of a cheap life of struggle. He wondered how bad the repercussions would be for pranking the evil chubster Carrie Gould with the trick gum. He suddenly didn’t care. He didn’t care if they fired him or if she had him arrested for assault… As long as she didn’t sit on him, he laughed. “I’m just not into that,” he said aloud to a pale-yellow wall slightly splattered with grease. He suddenly felt like a sad clown.

Steel turned off the burner and used a white plastic spatula to transfer the SPAM to a piece of waiting toast slathered with mayo that sat on a dark blue plate that was chipped in one spot. He topped the SPAM with a thick slice of tomato and a crisp piece of iceberg lettuce. He put down the top piece of toast and gently squashed the sandwich with his palm to connect all the parts.

He moved the plate to the table and set it down next to a tall glass of chocolate milk. He sat down, scooted his chair in, and began to eat and drink in silence. His mind was chugging with a revenge repertoire. He was set on paying that asshole Craig Nusmerg a visit. That very night.

Carrie Gould was sprawled out on her bed as much as her large body would allow it. She was slowly flipping through her diary and reading over all the entries she had made about Steel Brandenburg III. The inky red hearts she had drawn were now all deflated after she crossed through them with hard Xs that nearly tore the paper. The words her eyes traced again and again made her ache. Tears were falling down her face like slow, gentle rain in Africa. She put the tip of the pen to a blank page, sighed, and began to write:

Dear Diary,

Today was absolutely one of the worst days of my life. The worst. I can’t even describe the depth of my pain, the emotional torture I have suffered at the very hands of the only man I ever loved. Steel… Why are you like real steel? So cold, so metal, so heartless. Maybe if I had told him a long time ago how I felt, maybe things would have been different. He was so unbelievably cruel to me today. He played a prank on me with trick gum that tasted of mustard and made my mouth yellow. I was mortified. Absolutely mortified. And he laughed at me. He laughed out loud. I’m nothing but a joke to him. And the worst of it… He called me a “fat sack of shit.” Maybe he’s right. Maybe that’s all I am after all.

She lifted the pen from the tear-stained page and began to cry even harder. She began to wail like an injured whale in the ocean. Then there came the sound of feet on the stairs and a knock at the door of her bedroom. “Carrie? Is everything okay in there? Are you crying again?”

It was her mother. Carrie Gould still lived with her in the house she grew up in. Even though she was an adult, Carrie Gould had a hard time navigating the real world and her beloved mother was sympathetic about that and had agreed she could live with her as long as she wanted. “You’ll always be my child,” she often said. “Always.”

The door opened and the mother walked in. She looked upon her sobbing daughter with pained pity. “What is it, dear?” she asked as she went to sit on the small slice of space that remained on the bed. “What’s the matter?”

Carrie sniffed and closed her diary to keep her true feelings hidden from her mother. “It’s nothing,” she told her mother. “It’s nothing at all.”

Steel Brandenburg III blasted Oasis on the stereo in his white Toyota Tacoma as he drove the night streets of Berlin, Wyoming. The streetlights were gaseous and wet due to a rare rain that had come over the city. The wipers made a noise against the windshield as he drove. Droplets of water were frenzied in the headlight beams ahead of him.

Once he reached downtown, he pulled into the parking lot of the newspaper and used his key to get into the office. The reserve lights burned like yellow pollution in the dead of night dim as he strolled through. Computer screens glowed in places. Buttons on phones flashed with messages. He could hear the clambering of the pressmen as they worked in the back. He heard the obnoxious voice of Craig Nusmerg above all the others.

Steel made his way back to the press room just as they walked to the back dock for a smoke break. He followed them and listened to them make remarks about the weather.

When he emerged from the shadows, Craig Nusmerg turned and noticed him there. “What the hell are you doing here?” he said with a squinting eye of suspicion.

“I forgot something,” Steel lied. “Can I have one of those?”

Craig Nusmerg scoffed. “No. Cigarettes cost money and I can’t just hand them out to everyone.” He turned to one of the others. “Ricky. You got money coming out of your ass. I don’t even know why the hell you even work. Give Steel a cigarette.”

Ricky was skinny and dirty and was missing a few teeth. “To get out of the house and away from that nag of a wife of mine and them damn screaming kids. God, I swear. All they do is scream. I don’t care how much money I have; I’ll always be looking to get out of there.” He reached into his pack and handed Steel a cigarette and the use of his pink Bic lighter.

Craig Nusmerg laughed out loud. “You need to get yourself fixed and quit knocking her up… Damn baby maker. The damn world is already too crowded.”

Steel lit the cigarette and exhaled his first drag from the edge of the dock and into the rain that was more like mist.

Craig Nusmerg redirected his attention back to Steel. “So, just what the hell are you doing here so late. I thought you were a 9 to 5 man like all the rest of them fools,” and he gestured his head toward the main office.

“I just had something to work on that couldn’t wait… And I wanted to talk to you.”

“Talk to me? What the hell for?”

The other pressman tossed their smokes and moved around Steel and Craig Nusmerg as they returned to work.

“I wanted to apologize for the other night… At the party,” Steel said. “I was way out of line with all that talk about gravy. It was stupid. Sorry about that.”

Craig Nusmerg shifted nervously. He looked at Steel as if he were the strangest person alive. “Whatever, dude.”

“No. Seriously, Craig. I’m sorry. I thought maybe we could be friends. Maybe we could hang out some time, go grab a few beers at the pub.”

Craig Nusmerg let out a laugh. “Friends? I don’t think so. I’ve got plenty of friends. Hang out? No way.” He took one last drag of his smoke and tossed it into the darkness before walking away.

Steel feigned disappointment. “Wait,” he said. “All right. I guess I’ll just let you get back to work then.” But before Craig Nusmerg completely walked away, Steel moved after him. He quickly pulled something out of his pocket. “Hey. Do you want a piece of gum, Craig?”


“Yeah. Gum.”

Craig Nusmerg looked around to make sure no one was watching before reaching out and taking the piece. He didn’t want anyone to think he was gay. “Okay, I guess so.”

“See you later, man,” Steel said, and he walked off. He paused alone in the editorial department and waited for it. Then it came. The angry wail was like a dinosaur’s and the solo stampede coming after him even greater.

“You son of a bitch!” Craig Nusmerg cried out, his mouth stained green and spitting as he burst into the room. “I’ll fucking kill you for making me eat shit gum!”

A light suddenly illuminated on someone’s desk in the corner. Veronica Eyes was suddenly aglow like a fox angel. “What’s going on, boys?” she wanted to know. “Fighting again?”

“This son of a bitch gave me gum that tasted like shit,” Craig Nusmerg loudly complained.

Veronica Eyes giggled. “And you should look at yourself in a mirror.”

“What?” Craig Nusmerg said, pawing at his own mouth and tongue.

“You’re all green,” Veronica said. “But it serves you right, don’t you think. You did pour gravy all over his head at my party.”

Craig Nusmerg steamed as he looked at them both. He pointed at Steel. “This isn’t the end of it,” he growled. “I’ve got my eye on you, mother fucker. You better watch yourself… And you better watch out for me.” He turned and stomped off.

For some odd reason, Steel wanted to give Veronica a hug. Then he thought it not so odd and moved on her. She felt good in his arms. She smelled good. He wanted to kiss her, but he was so caught up in the moment that he didn’t clearly realize she was forcefully pushing him away.

“Whoa pal. You can thank me for saving your life from over there,” she said.

Steel took a few steps back. He was horribly embarrassed. “Sorry about that… How did you do that?”

“Do what?” Veronica wondered.

“Make him back off like that. I was sure he was going to beat the hell out of me.”

“Women have a way,” she began. “We’re smarter and stronger than men. We don’t resort to violence at the drop of a hat… And we’re sleeping together. He knows he needs to keep himself in line and not ruffle my feathers if he still wants to get some.”

Steel was shocked. “What? You and Craig Nusmerg?”

“It’s not exclusive, or a relationship. It’s just back-alley lust. It’s completely selfish on both our parts and that’s fine.”

Steel thought about it for a moment and wondered if she could be selfish with him as well. “Do you want to go get a drink?” he suddenly asked her.

He was delightfully surprised when she said, “Yes.”


The Crowns of Pluto (5.)

For Crowns of Pluto.

I went to the hall of archives in the low whiteness of Cinderella City. It was all covered in a faint white dust. It was the place we collected ourselves in case we forgot. The hall was one giant book of all the history of man back on Earth — how we came to be, what we did, where we finally ended up. And now it all sat here in a hollow, silent shell to be revealed only to me now. Perhaps others will come from the sky or the tunnels or the clouds, but for now, I am its caretaker and sole reveler.

There was some serious moonlight on the edge of my heart as I went to the far end of the archives where there was a long bank of thick windows and directly beneath them tables with neatly placed chairs. It’s where the lonely ones would go with their books and their scripts and their digital pulses and they could look at the stars or the snowball as they read, studied, contemplated, disappeared into the wilderness of their own wavelength minds of tormented loneliness or rather bliss for some I suppose.

I took a deep breath. I couldn’t fathom what was wrong with me. But alas, of course, it must be… The loneliness. I moved closer to one of the windows and pressed a hand against it. When I looked out onto the surface of Pluto, it was somehow no longer Pluto. All I saw now was a gently flowing meadow of the most perfect greens and yellows that there could ever be. My entire existence was suddenly peace as I stared out at the vastness of the field below the wide gasp of all that is space.

Then there came the vision of the chair in the very center of the meadow. It looked like a very comfortable chair. It looked like a chair that one might find in the mahogany study of a professor. The fabric was royal blue in color, a dark blue, a perfect shade of enlightened death blue that shone deeply in contrast to the colors of the meadow. I suddenly became aware that the chair wanted me to sit in it. The oxygen levels must be low, I thought to myself. How can this be? And then the door that appeared, a simple door of a house on a farm with four pieces of rectangular glass in its guts, begged me to open it and step out. But wouldn’t I die? Why? Why would you want me to do this? I won’t be able to breathe. The Paper People were speaking to my mind of glue. I put my hand on the door and pushed. The air was suddenly warm and filled with the golden blessings of sun.

I waded slowly through the meadow. There was a slight breeze. The chair nearly glowed as I moved closer to it. There were sparse trees of knotted gray trunks and limbs, a few green leaves fluttering. I sat in the chair, and it fit me perfectly. I felt like a king. I was King Captain Willow at last.

I closed my eyes to simply dream and when I opened them there was a boy dressed in all white and he was just standing there and staring at me. “What are you doing in my chair?” he asked in a soft, innocent voice.

“Your chair?”

He moved closer. He looked princely almost with the way he carried himself.

“Yes. I’m the only one who is supposed to sit there. I won’t ask you twice to get out of it.”

“Certainly,” I told him and I got up out of the chair. “I didn’t realize it belonged to anyone in particular.”

He moved past me and climbed into the chair. He cocked his head and looked at me. His blonde waves of hair rolled and crashed in the wind. “What are you doing here?” he asked me.

“I came through a door,” I said, and I turned and pointed. “From over there.”

The princely boy craned his neck to look. “There’s no door there. I don’t believe you.”

“Well, there was door there and I went through it.”

He looked me over in awe and wonder. “You have strange clothes,” he said.

“I’m an astronaut. From Earth.”


“It’s a planet… Not much different than this one. You don’t know of Earth?”

The boy looked confused. “I never heard of Earth.”

“Do you live here alone? Are there others here with you?”

The boy looked down at his lap and then back up at me. “No. I’m the only one.”

“Then how did you get here? Surely you came with someone.”

“I’ve always been here. This is my home, my life. But if you came here from a place called Earth… Do you have a purpose?”

“Well, I swam across the solar system in a ship,” I told him. “I came here to study and learn and build and be part of a new society for my people.”

“Then there are others like you?” the boy asked, slightly alarmed.

“Not anymore,” I answered. “I’m the only one left. There were some problems and miscalculations. My only purpose now is to carry on my mission as best I can and hope someone else, someday, comes to join me… Before it’s too late. My name is Captain Willow. Do you have a name?”

“There’s no need for a name when you’re the only one,” he answered. “I just am.”

“Then I’ll call you Am… Because I must call you something.”

The boy looked small in the chair and he began swinging his legs and looking around. I began to wonder if he was tiring of my company. But where was I to go when I really didn’t know where I was?” I suppose I could just walk away and hope for the best, I thought.

He surprised me with what he said next. “I want you to take me to this place you came from, the place on the other side of the door. I want to see it for myself.”

“I don’t know if that would be the best thing to do. It could be dangerous. It’s very different than this place, whatever and wherever it is.”

He hopped out of the chair and stood as tall as he could for a boy. “I’m not afraid. I’m never afraid.”

I found him to be relatively harmless, and I thought that he even might come in useful in some small way. Perhaps he could lead me back to the door and to the station… And beyond those thoughts I did not know what else. “All right, Am. You can come with me. For now. But when I feel the need for you to come back, you must listen to me and do what I say. Do you understand?”

“I’m more than you think I am,” Am said. “But I suppose I will have to prove that to you… Now, show me the way to the place you came to be here.”


Mr. Kringle-go-Round

UFO over city for Mr. Kringle.

Time stands still beneath a December moon. The moon has its own scars, just like the sun and all the planets. Most men and women have scars if they’ve lived any. He considered it all, the cruelty of man to man as he passed before the face of it.

The rush of the throng on their way to nowhere, to just stare at each other and the wonder that we all are or were or will be again, if we could just get out of our own ways. He suddenly lost all faith in the humanity of Earth and went down.

The wreckage of the flying saucer from another time was scattered about on Route 39 in rural Pennsylvania. Mr. Kringle crawled out from under it all, lay flat on his back in his silver suit and stared up at space. A deer came out of the forest and came to him and nuzzled him, licked at his burns.

Mr. Kringle sighed. “My navigation just isn’t the same as it used to be.” He looked into the seemingly fake eyes of the tepid deer, like glossy black marbles they were. “I was once an excellent flyer of these things. But I’m getting old again.”

He got up with a groan, brushed himself off and worked to gather the pieces of the craft into a pile. “I might as well just vaporize it all,” he bemoaned. He looked at his strange watch. “There’s no human spirit in Christmas anymore. I’m surprised I haven’t gotten shot yet.” Then he noticed he was only talking to the wind and the trees. “Where has my friendly deer gotten off to now?” he wondered. He scoffed. “Relationships never last.”

He looked around but he couldn’t see much in the darkness. It would have been evil witch black, black as pitch, black as permanent blindness had it not been for that December moon tacked to the sky like art in a chalky, sterile museum.

“I sure do wish I was in a warm hotel room in Niagara Falls with a nice glass of ginger ale right about now,” he said. “But I suppose that’s just wishful thinking.”

He decided to just start walking. The soles of his silver boots crunched across the forest floor for a long time and then in the distance he could hear the roar of traffic on a road or a highway of some sort. He came upon it at the edge of the woods and beyond the interstate there was a dome-shaped glow. It was a city. But what city? It could be any city. A city unknown to himself and billions more like him. Perhaps at one time long ago… In the wonderous modern age, the time when humanity was the best it would ever be, before the prehistoric time, the fall, the crash, the burn.

He plotted a path across the highway. As he slowly walked, the rushing machines went right through him as if he wasn’t even there. He thought about death and all the times and ways he had experienced it. Now death barely affected him. He just kept going. One life after another it seemed.

Once he was to the other side of the interstate, he looked back across and into the dark wall of forest beyond. His memories were fading, he thought to himself. The memories of the places and the people and the things he had done… It was all slowly vanishing from his heart. There was no longer anyone left to remember him. And if there was, they no longer let it be known. It was a loneliness bred by final betrayals and a lust for the obscenely mundane.

Mr. Kringle looked up at the stars that he so readily swam through these days. He was glad that he got involved in flying the saucers. It gave him an opportunity to escape the blandness that his life had become. It allowed him peace and quiet that he rarely ever got. And he was good at it. At least he used to be good at it. He would eventually have to explain the crash to someone. But he didn’t really care about it at that moment.

He was tired and he was thirsty and he just wanted to find a place to sleep for the night and maybe somewhere to get something to eat. He was longing for a late-night plate of roast beef with gravy on open-faced toast and a side of mashed potatoes. Mr. Kringle imagined a lonely meal in a lonely diner that was bathed in lonely orange and golden light and the lonely world out there on the other side of the greasy windows. He pictured a raspy-voiced waitress standing in the corner with a cigarette and watching him suspiciously. He could hear the dinging of the little silver bell when the cook put up his order and she emerged from her nicotine cloud slowly, with no sense of urgency.

His imagination righted itself back to reality and he came upon a lighted trail of chain motels and restaurants at an exit ramp to a small city where people lived and where other people, the travelers, couldn’t believe people lived. To the travelers it was but a puff of smoke, a quick dip in the well. To the ones that lived there, it was life and love and hurt and beauty and damage and monotony and battles and every other thing that a life is. The leavers stayed for maybe an hour, ate, used restrooms, pitied the fools like Mr. T. Then the leavers got back into their rides and left and went on to another town with lives they did not know of.

By the time Mr. Kringle reached the hotel of his choice that really wasn’t a choice but merely acceptance, the one with the public relations smile in broken plastic neon and the clean towels and the impeccable service provided by grinning robotic corpses, he died once more. He collapsed right there in the lobby. Onto a cold floor recently cleaned with a dirty mop. His last breath tasted of bleach. A woman screamed. A small crowd gathered around him. He saw their faces fade away as he was pulled into the light once more. There it was again… And again and again and again. Death door’s welcoming blowtorch on angel wings.


Nitram (A Movie I Watched)

For Nitram movie.

Since my wife has now switched to working overnights at the hospital, I’ve been tasked with finding ways to entertain myself in the evenings without my TV watching partner.

I’ve been loading up my watch lists on Netflix and Hulu, and I’ve experienced some hits, and some misses. But one film I watched a few nights ago was surprisingly impactful, and I would easily say one of the best movies I have seen in a long time, despite its harrowing subject matter.

The film is called Nitram, and is based on the real-life story of Martin Bryant, the convicted mass shooter who orchestrated one of the most horrific massacres in modern Australian history. The incident occurred in 1996 in the tourist town of Port Arthur on the Australian island state of Tasmania. Bryant’s attack left 35 people dead and another 23 injured.

The film focuses on the life of a young man named Nitram (Martin backward), an emotionally troubled young man who lives with his parents. Nitram is unstable and unpredictable. He is prone to frightening outbursts. He is obsessed with setting off fireworks despite being seriously burned by them as a child.

Nitram’s mother is cold and standoffish and resents having her life turned upside down by her son’s mental illness. His father, who dreams of opening a bed and breakfast and having Nitram help him run it, is much more nurturing and compassionate toward his son.

While trying to make money by cutting lawns, Nitram meets a wealthy, eccentric woman who lives alone in a big house with her herd of dogs. While most people in Nitram’s life turn away from him, Helen takes an interest in the young man, and they quickly become friends. They somehow find common ground in their roles as outcasts.

The film delves heavily into Nitram’s emotional breakdown leading up to the shooting. Along this hell bound spiraling journey, he is rebuffed by women and others he wants to befriend. He suffers through major tragedies and loss. Nitram slowly builds a vision for revenge on a world that has done nothing but kick him to the ground. He withdraws, grows angry, and begins stockpiling weapons, often illegally.  

The film is beautifully dark, frightening, and unsettling. The role of Nitram is exquisitely played by American actor Caleb Landry Jones, and his brooding and powerful performance is mesmerizing. Despite Nitram’s horrific actions in the film, Landry can somehow invoke sympathy for his character at the same time he goes down the path toward deplorable violence.  

The film is not bloody or gory and I like the fact that director Justin Kurzel took that approach. Instead, the violence is implied yet very strongly felt. The lead up to the massacre is chilling, but has almost an innocent and childlike air to it, especially the moment right before the shooting begins. It’s heartbreaking and powerful.

I believe the film calls out humanity on the corruption of the human spirit by violence and the need for better mental health care for all. It’s a sad reflection of what happened in 1996 and what is still happening far too much now. I watched the film amid the recent tragic shootings in California. The news is painful and sour and tiring.

And I fear it will never stop because not enough of us care for it to.

Nitram is not a cheery film by any means, but one I am certainly glad I discovered.

The Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming – 4

Magic for Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming.

Zappy’s Magic Shop in downtown Berlin, Wyoming smelled of glee and trickery when Steel Brandenburg III first walked in during his lunchbreak on a Wednesday.

An old man with a moustache the color of smog and twirled oddly on the ends looked up and smiled brightly. His antique head was speckled and oddly shaped and he was bald except for a few wispy golden-brown strands fluttering about untamed. “Hello!” he greeted him. “Welcome to Zappy’s.”

Steel looked around the colorful and whimsical shop. It was warm, yet creepy. “Hi. I’ve never been here before. It’s strange but wonderful.”

The old man, the owner, that being Geppetto Zappy himself, came out from behind the counter and walked happily toward him with exuberant and open arms. He wore green corduroy pants with suspenders and a white shirt, one that was a bit too large for his small frame and somewhat wrinkled. “So, what can I help you with today, young man? Are you interested in performing some magic?”

“I’m not much for magic,” Steel said. “But would you have any of that trick gum that turns a person’s mouth a different color?”

The old man happily clapped his hands together and grinned. “Yes, yes, yes! I do have trick gum, the best in town.” He paused to consider what he had said and stuck a crooked finger in the air. “Make that the best and only trick gum in town.” He motioned to Steel to follow him. “This way. I will show you.”

Geppetto Zappy returned to his space behind the counter and gingerly retrieved three packs of trick gum from a display case and laid them out. “These are my best ones,” he said, and he leaned forward and spoke quietly even though he didn’t need to because the shop was otherwise empty. “What color were you looking to paint these bastards’ mouths with? Huh?”

Steel looked over the selection seriously and then put a finger on one of the packs. “What about this one?”

“Ah, yes,” the old man said. “This one will make them turn yellow, and it tastes just like mustard.” He chuckled. “Who wants gum that tastes like mustard? Not me. Do you like mustard?”

“No,” Steel answered. “Is it spicy mustard?”

“I think it’s more like the tangy yellow mustard,” he explained. “You know, like at the cheap burger places with the clown and that creepy king.”

Steel pointed to another pack. “And that one?”

“Ah, this one is green and tastes like grass fertilized with cow manure. Isn’t that disgusting? I wouldn’t want that in my mouth.”

“Yes, rightfully so… And that one?”

“Right. Excellent choice. This is my bestseller of all time. It will cover their deceitful lips and tongue and teeth with the blackest of black, midnight black, black hole black… And, it burns with the taste of pepper.”

Steel thought for a moment. “I’m not sure. They all seem intriguing.”

Geppetto Zappy looked up into Steel’s worrisome face. “Perhaps I can help you decide. What is… How do I say it… Your motivation for pranking?”

“My motivation?”

“Yes, yes. Why do you want to give someone a piece of trick gum? Hmm?”

Steel considered the old man’s question, then quickly answered. “Revenge.”

Geppetto Zappy grinned with a good fever in him. “Oh. Revenge. That my young friend is the very best kind of trickery… Is it for your wife?”

“I’m not married.”

“Your girlfriend?”

Steel shifted uncomfortably from the thought of it. “I don’t have a girlfriend either. I don’t have anyone.”

Geppetto Zappy suddenly felt bad for Steel and wanted to help him out somehow. “I tell you what. You seem like a good person who wants to do nothing but right some wrongs. I support that. I will always support that. So, here’s what I’m going to do. If you buy two, I’ll let you have the third for nothing.”

Steel looked at him and smiled. “Yes. I’ll do it. I’ll take all three.”

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” the old man exclaimed. “I’m very happy for you!” He rang up the sale, bagged the packs of gum and handed it across the counter to Steel. “Now, you make sure to come back and tell me how it all went. Okay? I love stories of revenge.”

Steel turned at the door and looked back at him, suddenly feeling a bit sad to leave the old man there by himself. He liked him. “Thanks. I will.”

Steel walked into the office of the Berlin (Wyoming) Daily Times like Tony Manero strutting down a street in Brooklyn carrying cans of paint, Staying Alive by the Bee Gees playing in the darkest depths of his mind.

Plump Carrie Gould noticed him because it was so unusual for Steel to look so confident and happy. Her strained heart skipped a beat. “My, my,” she said as he passed in front of her desk. “Someone is in a good mood.”

Steel suddenly stopped and turned to look at her. “What was that you said?”

He never cared for Carrie Gould because she was nauseatingly peppy and talked about Jesus and the Bible a lot and always trying to get people to come with her to church on Sunday, but then would turn around and hatefully gossip about those same people behind their backs.

She had a big round head beneath that blonde bob, fat cheeks, thin lips with no color, a squashed and oily nose and barely any neck. Her clothes strained to breathe daily because she was so large… And she smelled bad. Steel figured it was because she couldn’t reach certain areas of her body with soap. He laughed inside when he thought about how Dr. Now from My 600-Pound Life would certainly chastise her for poor hygiene when he stepped through the door of the exam room. “Hello, how you all doing? What is the problem with the hygiene? I can tell from here you’re not washing yourself.”

His demeanor frightened her a bit and that made her sad, too. She had a little bit of a crush on him, feelings she only revealed to her dirty diary back home. “I… I just said it seems like you’re in a good mood today. Are you in a good mood today?”

He faked a smile at her. “In some ways I am, but in other ways I’m not. You know how it goes… Life and all its ups and downs. I’m sure you know all about ups and downs.”

“Well, sure. Like you say… Don’t we all,” she nervously replied. “But then I put my faith in the Lord, and I feel so much better about everything… Are you a man of faith by any chance?” she asked with hope.

“Me? No. I mean, maybe when I was younger, but the world has taught me something altogether different.” Steel glanced around at the mostly empty office in order to derail the subject of organized – rather disorganized – religion. Everyone else was still out on their lunch break or attending appointments with clients or doing interviews. “It gets quiet in here when no one’s around. Don’t you get lonely?”

Carrie Gould obesely chuckled. “Oh, my yes it does. But I don’t mind. I like the quiet… And I’m never completely lonely. Not when Jesus walks beside me.”

“Right,” Steel replied. “Hey, would you like a stick of gum?”

Carrie Gould brightened. To her, gum was food and she loved food, any kind of food. “That would be wonderful.”

“Great,” Steel said with a grin, and he opened the bag from Zappy’s and pulled out one of the packs he had bought. “All right. It’s fresh, never opened. I’ll let you have the first piece.”

Carrie Gould was flattered, and her eyes widened, and she giggled like a schoolgirl. Steel undid the pack, pulled out a piece and handed it to her. “Here you go. Enjoy.” He walked off through an opening and back to the area that housed the small editorial department of post-office-aluminum painted cinderblock and small windows that were selfish with the sunlight.

A few moments after he sat down at his desk, he heard an agonizing scream and Carrie Gould came bounding into the room, nearly stumbling at the step down. Her mouth was open like a dog panting, and it was all stained in a deep sickly yellow color. Tears were coming out of her eyes and dripping down her chubby face.

“What is this!?” she whined, feverishly waving a hand at her mouth. “It’s so disgusting!”

Steel laughed out loud and pointed at her. “Got you! It’s mustard gum!”

“Mustard gum! I hate mustard!” she howled.

“Well, that makes it extra special then,” Steel said with another big laugh.

“You bastard!” Carrie Gould cried out, and then she started gagging and she ran off to the women’s room like a stampeding elephant.

Steel couldn’t help but follow her and then he stood outside the bathroom door listening to her gag and spit and groan. He lightly tapped a knuckle against the door. “Carrie… Are you okay in there?”

“Leave me alone!” she yelled. “What a horrible thing to do to someone.” She continued to choke and spew.

“It was just a joke,” Steel said through the door. “Don’t you have a sense of humor?” He heard the water come on at the sink and the sounds of vigorous rubbing and splashing and spitting. Then he heard crying. But he didn’t really care. The door suddenly opened and there stood Carrie Gould with a very sour look on her face, tears in her eyes and with a mouth still showing the remnants of the yellow.

“I don’t think it was very funny at all,” she said, her mood low and crushed. “Why would you do something like that to me? I’ve never done anything to you. Not ever. I’ve always been kind to you.”

Steel gave her a sickened look. “I see right through you, Carrie. I see who you really are. I’m a highly intuitive genius and you don’t fool me one bit. You give off bad vibes. You’re not a good person. You hide behind that Bible and preaching and act like you’re some wonderful human being but in reality you’re nothing but a fat sack of shit.”

Carrie Gould was horribly shocked by his hateful words, her yellow mouth gaped in disbelief as her heart slowly tore in two. She cowered at first, but then righted her self-pride like an overturned tugboat rights itself in the water, and she thrust a shaking pointer finger toward his face, angry like a freshly steamed dumpling. “You’re not going to get away with this. I’m going to report this incident to Mr. Creep. He already doesn’t like you and this is going to be the last straw for him… And hopefully for you. But even so, I’ll be praying for you, Steel.” She stomped off to her desk, snatched up her purse and coat and walked out the front door of the office and disappeared into the ringing palladium sun.


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The Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming – 3

For Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming.

Steel Brandenburg III sat at his desk in the newsroom of the Berlin (Wyoming) Daily Times. The cursor on his computer blinked, impatiently waiting for him to start writing a story for the next edition. But Steel’s mind was blank, numb and only slightly jolted when Veronica Eyes came thundering in and threw her cluster of reporter things down on her desk before shedding her coat with the furry collar and placing it on the back of her chair.

“Ugh,” she groaned. “I hate when the mayor has these lunchtime meetings. They’re so ridiculously boring.”

Steel turned his blank stare toward her as she sat down at her desk on the other side of the room. “Then don’t go to them,” he said, flatly.

She distractedly moved her head to look at him at the same time she was shuffling through papers and notebooks and files splayed across her workspace. “What?”

“Don’t go to those meetings if they’re so boring,” Steel repeated.

She scoffed at his remark. “I have to Steel. It’s my job. It’s boring but important. People want to know what the mayor is up to. And, you never know, he could choke on something during one of these stupid luncheons. People would eat that kind of stuff up. And like I said, it’s my job. It’s what a reporter does. I’m a watchdog. I’m a bulldog.”

Steel felt that last bit was aimed at him and how she felt about his work performance. He didn’t match her expectations. He didn’t match anyone’s expectations. “But sometimes you just have to let go and crawl out of the coffin,” Steel said, but he really didn’t understand why. It was just the way he was. Strange. Different. His thoughts were continually muddled, sloppy, slippery, like a plate of warm spaghetti, domed and buttery.

Veronica made a strained face and shook her head in puzzlement, her dark, loose curls wobbling. “What does that mean… Never mind. I don’t have time for this.” She clamped on her headphones and turned her attention to the pile of chores in front of her. Steel suddenly envied her abilities as a reporter. She was a real journalist, he thought. She knew what she was doing. She was a leader in the newsroom. She was experienced. She hustled. She was smart, motivated, often aggressive but still professional… And perhaps somewhat of a fox, he finally admitted to himself. She came from a family with money and could be a pretentious bitch, but he liked her soft face. He liked the way her mouth stretched out and showed off her big sparkly teeth when she smiled or laughed. They reminded him of polished ivory Chicklets. That is, when she smiled or laughed. It was hard times at the Daily Times of Berlin, Wyoming. Steel sighed deeply and went back to staring at his blank computer screen and the blinking cursor cried out to him, “Feed me, feed me, feed me lies.”

Jarrod Creep was a blood-hungry thorn. He was the publisher and the editor of the Berlin (Wyoming) Daily Times, and he sat in a wooden and glass box in the corner of the front office and flipped through that day’s edition. The afternoon pale golden sunlight filtered painfully through the windows behind him.

Steel watched his small stupid head move as his eyes with glasses danced across the pages. Once in a while he would glance up at Steel, but he wouldn’t say anything. Sometimes he would sigh. He was a small man injected with vinegar. He was a loudmouth who was his own idea of greatness. His beard and moustache were slightly unruly. The hair on his grape-shaped head was never fully groomed. He had one tooth that was crooked. He wasn’t an attractive man, but he had a wife. They were talking about having children, as he would mention in casual conversations with staffers. He liked Thai food and watching college basketball. He had no close friends, but countless acquaintances that he collected like stamps.

Jarrod Creep eventually closed the newspaper, folded it neatly and set it at the corner of his desk. He got up to shut his office door. The glass slightly rattled in its frame. It was an old, time-worn building that had a faint scent of mustiness about it. Carrie Gould, the overweight office manager with the straw-colored bob, tried to drown the smell out through the overuse of fruit-scented sprays, but everyone believed it was to drown out the foul smell of her own body.

“What’s going on with you?” he asked Steel after he sat back down, like a king would settle into his throne.

“Going on with me?”

“You don’t have anything in the paper again. I asked you several times for a story on the public access initiatives and impacts at Moore’s Ranch. I still don’t see it. Why?”

“I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the story. I’m still trying to figure it all out,” Steel answered as he uncomfortably shifted in the uncomfortable chair.

“Figure it out?”

“Yes. It’s all very complicated.”

“Have you attempted to uncomplicate it? Have you even talked to anyone yet?”


Jarrod Creep was losing patience. “Why not!? This is an important story. People want to know about this, and they expect us to give them the answers. That’s what we are tasked with. It’s a great responsibility.”

“I get nervous,” Steel blurted out.

Jarrod Creep chuckled, but it wasn’t because something was funny, it was because something was unbelievable in an angry kind of way. And the something unbelievable was Steel Brandenburg III and his inability to perform his basic job duties. “‘I get nervous’ is not an acceptable answer… Not to me or anyone else on the news team. I’m just going to come out and say it, Steel. You’re on thin ice here. Real thin ice. You’re dragging the news operation down and I can’t have that. I saw promise in you when I first hired you. Have I completely misjudged you? I’d really like to know.”

The publisher’s words were churning Steel’s guts. His throat was going dry, his heart and mind pumped nervous and warm. He wanted to jump across the desk and stick a knife into Jarrod Creep’s bitter, self-righteous heart of Christmas coal. “I’m just not excited by anything that goes on here,” Steel surprisingly began, like slowly rising warm steam from a vent in the earth. “This town is bleak. The people are bleak. There is nothing here that grabs my soul and makes it worth my while to wake up in the morning. I hate it here.”

Jarrod Creep’s eyes bloomed like a liquidy bubble blown through a hole in a plastic stick by a wonderous child. He glared at Steel intensely but let him keep talking. They were the most words Steel had spoken to him at one time since he hired him five months ago. And in that time, Jarrod Creep had grown to dislike the man, his seemingly new hope for bolstering readership. But he felt uneasy around him. Most of the staff felt uneasy around him. There was something off about him. There was something dark and painful about Steel Brandenburg III and he hid it well. He was shrouded in so much mystery and awkward elements of the unknown. When he did smile or laugh, it was filtered through the mesh of a broken soul, a battered history.  

“You don’t value life outside of work,” Steel went on. “You expect people to dedicate so much of themselves to this bullshit organization that they have nothing left…”

“That’s a false claim!” Jarrod Creep interrupted. “Absolutely false.”

“No, it’s true.” Steel snapped. “People here are burnt out. They’ve run out of joy. This town is bad enough but then you pile it on even more. Backs are breaking. Minds are snapping. My mind is snapping. And that’s why you haven’t gotten your stupid story!”

Jarrod Creep tapped a pencil on his desk as he stared and glared at Steel. “Well, that was a bit overdramatic. Do you feel better after getting all that pent-up frustration out?”

Steel slumped in his chair and looked away. The office was getting too warm. He was beginning to feel sticky beneath his uncomfortable office clothes. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever be free of it.”

Jarrod Creep leaned forward and tried to lighten the mood with a poorly acted smile. “I appreciate your honesty, as rough-edged as it was. You spoke with passion. I must tell you, Steel. I was planning on firing you today, but your quote-unquote passion has changed my mind. I’m going to give you 30 days, and in that time, I want to see you refocus that passion toward your work here. I want this newspaper to succeed. I want it to be the best it can be, but for that, I need people with laser-focused passion. Look at me.” He leaned back in his chair and interlocked his fingers behind his head like a phony showoff. “I didn’t get where I am today by constantly complaining about my conditions in life. I’m a success because I want to be a success. I need to be a success. I want those around me to be a success as well. I know I can’t always expect everyone to perform at my level, but I believe those under me should at least strive for it… And if you’re not striving for success, there’s no room for you on my team. Our team. Berlin, Wyoming’s team… How do you feel about all that?”

 Steel wanted to scream and run out the door. But instead, he said, in weakness and stained conformity, “I’m excited about it.”