Category Archives: Fables and Tales

The Outlandish Dapple of a Carnival Creep

black and white ferris wheel
Photo by Sergio Souza on

High above the ghostly guts glow of a Southwestern American town on the outskirts of nowhere, a cherry-lime moon hangs heavy in a bruise-blue sky, an outlandish dapple over the desert.

Down below, an assistant mortician by the name of Kent Cumberland carefully follows the tip of the parking attendant’s orange directional wand and pulls his car into a space within a tightly packed line of other cars laid out on the flattened grass of a large field. He moved the shifter to P and shut it down. He gazed out the windshield at the insane world full of hope and desire. He breathed, and then wondered aloud. “Why do they say pull into a parking space? I’m not pulling my car. I’m going forward. I’m forwarding, not pulling. People think of the stupidest things.”

He gets out of the car and checks three times to make sure it is locked before he walks away. The air smells like sweet grease and farm animals. Carnival lights reflect off the asses of stars. He hears the noise of generators blended with bright voices and laughter and the carnie folk chants on the midway.    

He tugs at his pre-autumn coat of tan corduroy that’s too small for him and smiles. “This is going to be fun,” he says to no one because he is truly all alone. There is no woman on his arm. There never is. There never was. There may never be. Kent Cumberland was far too creepy in the watery mind of the blue world for that, so it decided. But perhaps this night the swami beneath the moon and the canvas would sway some hearts in his favor. Perhaps.

Kent Cumberland has always been an awkwardly large person. Not overweight, just large. Robust. Ample. Big and Tall. He had an abundance of body mass. And now, as he walked toward the entrance gate of the 11-day State Fair on the crumbling pastoral eastern edge of Necromancer, New Mexico, he somewhat resembled a lumbering barrel, or more precisely, a lumberjack carrying a barrel, a barrel full of plastic red monkeys.

He nodded politely to those he passed and cheerfully greeted them, “Hello, hello, hellooo…” No one returned the gesture. The people just turned away, whispered, made puking gestures with a finger pointed down their throat. “I’m a very likeable fella!” he called out to the waves of people as they receded. “You just need to get to know me. I’m not a ghoul.”

As Kent Cumberland stood in line at the main ticket booth, he heard two women a few paces behind harshly insult someone in giggling whispers. It soon became crystal clear that they were talking about him.

“He must be here for the freak show…”

“I heard he keeps dead people’s body parts in his basement…”

Kent released one of his infamous exasperated sighs and turned to face his mockers. “Excuse me, I have ears and I heard what you young ladies just said, and I must sadly inform you that this particular carnival doesn’t have a freak show.”

The women laughed. One said, “Okay, thanks for the info, freak.” They laughed some more.

“And another thing,” he began, his usual puffy and pale face now taunt with anger and flushed a pink not unlike bleached blood. “I do not keep the body parts of dead people in my basement. What an abhorrent thing to say. Have you no respect for the dead? I’ll have you know that I wholeheartedly adhere to the strictest guidelines and moral ethics of my profession. But if you insist on scalding my good name with vicious lies and rumors, perhaps I may indeed be encouraged to begin collecting body parts.” He scowled and pointed an accusatory thick finger at them. “And I’ll start with you two.”

The girls shrank back, their faces twisted in disgust.

“Next,” the woman at the ticket counter called out.

Kent turned and asked for one ticket. “Thank you,” he said with a smile, and he made his way into the momentary lapse of another world.

The tent was lipstick red and sat beneath a yellow light attached to a weathered wooden pole. A sign out front read: Fortunes Told. Kent stared at it while eating blue cotton candy and thinking about how his mind shifted like tectonic plates and wondering if that was a problem for society or just himself. His mouth was ringed with the color of artificial raspberry. “You know, moon, I just don’t understand why they call it raspberry. Raspberries are red, not blue. Who came up with such a ridiculous idea? Ahhh… What do you know, you’re made of cheese and have aliens fumbling around on your backside even though the government denies it.”

A short gypsy woman wearing clothes from the old country and with kinky black hair and small eyes poked her head out of the tent and looked up at Kent. “Who the hell are you talking to?”

“The moon.”

The woman looked up to the sky and pointed. “That moon?”

“Yes, silly. Are there any other moons?”

“How could we possibly know… But it’s a good one tonight. I’ve been expecting you. Are you ready to learn of your future?”

“I think so.”

“Well, then come inside.”

Inside the tent, in the very middle on flattened dirt, sat a round table covered in a red cloth. On top of the table sat a crystal ball cradled by an artificial hand. There were two folding chairs at the table, one opposite from the other. The fortune teller lit some candles and the glow inside the red tent grew as it mixed with the hanging LED lanterns and made it feel like hell high on energy. She took her seat and invited Kent to take his.

Once he sat down, she reached across the table and took his hands in hers and held them. She ran her fingers over his knuckles. Her eyes were closed, and she took several deep breaths. “Tell me your name.”

“Wait… Shouldn’t you already know it?”

She opened her eyes and gave him a look like a snapping whip ferociously forced forth by the wrist of an ancient cowboy.

He shuddered. “Kent.”

“You need to relax, Kent. I can sense your tension. Breathe with me.”

He slowly breathed in and out, closely following her waves.

“Tell me something about yourself,” she breathed through a small mouth, lips like dry paper curling in a breeze.

“Last night I had a dream where I was in a park in the middle of some big city, maybe it was Central Park in New York even though I have never been there but would like to go. Well, it was night, and I was sitting around a campfire with a bunch of foreigners…”

The woman opened one eye at his remark. “Foreigners?”

“Yes, foreigners. You know, people from other lands. Not Americans.”

“Go on.”

“Well, for some reason I was holding my heart in my hands, the actual heart from my body, and it was still beating. I passed it to the person next to me and it went around the circle and each one there held my heart and just looked at it for a moment, but then the last person took a bite out of it as if it were an apple. He looked like Willem Dafoe.”

“Oh my. Then what happened?”

“Nothing. I woke up. But I had a pain in my chest. What do you think it means?”

The small, strange woman released his hands and moved her own crinkly fingers whimsically about the crystal ball as she mumbled an indecipherable tongue to conjure up some great vision from the orb on the table. “Yes. Yes. It’s becoming clearer. The fog is lifting.”

Kent was eager for a jubilant prophecy. He leaned forward. “What do you see?”

“I see… A woman.”

Kent’s eyes grew and his smile was like that of a supernova on speed. “A woman!? What kind of a woman?”

“A very beautiful woman. Very beautiful indeed.”

“What is she doing?”

“She’s… She’s sitting at a table with you. You’re talking with each other. Yes. You’re talking about your life. Perhaps your future together.”

“Really!? Do you think I’m asking her to marry me? How wonderful it would be to be married! Oh, I hope she says yes.”

Shhh. I see… Why, I see that love is right in front of your very nose. Can’t you see what I see?”

Kent blinked his eyes as the fortune teller looked across the table at him and smiled. Some of her teeth were crooked and he wondered if one of her eyes was made of clouded glass. “You? You’re the woman you see in my future?” He frowned with disappointment.

She waved a hand over the crystal ball, and it suddenly went dark. Kent got up to leave. “Wait! Do you no longer wish to fulfill your destiny of love?”

He turned to face her pitiful stance. “I’m sorry, mam. I’m afraid I find you quite distasteful regarding the realm of romance. I suppose you could say… You’re just not my type.” He continued to walk toward the slitted exit.

The fortune teller quickly moved in front of him and blocked his way. “Please. Please! I’m begging you. Take me with you. Love me. I won’t be any trouble. I promise. You… You can just set me up on a shelf if you want. Or keep me in a closet. Look at me. I’m small. I just want to be loved.”

Kent released an exasperated breath. “I already have a pet. A cat named Captain. He doesn’t need a playmate. I’m sorry.”

“We can be lovers then. I know how to satisfy a man. I could make you feel soooo good.”

Kent’s eyes glided all over her and swabbed her with suspicion. He was searching for a hint of something about her that could possibly satisfy him like she said, but none of it felt right to him. “I think I’ll stick to my glossy magazines. Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to go ride some of the rides before it gets too late.”

“No! You must not.” She dashed back to her crystal ball, waved a hand over it to open the portal of future thought, and gazed inside. “I see a terrible tragedy coming tonight.”

Curious and slightly frightened, Kent turned. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about your life. I see that you will cease to exist if you choose frivolous fun over love.”

Kent pushed his hand though the air to wave off her thoughts. “Knock it off, lady. I see what you’re trying to do. Lies don’t work on me. How do you expect to be in a relationship with me if you can’t even tell the truth from the start.”

“But please! If you walk out now and go to the midway, you will die. I see it. If you are so concerned about truth, know this… The future does not lie!”

Kent scoffed at her manipulative vibes. “I’ll take my chances.” He walked out of the tent and toward the midway, a brightly lit cornucopia of mechanical color and noise.

Kent Cumberland worked his way into the seat at his place on the Ferris wheel and a grubby attendant lowered the bar. He was so large that he took up most of the space except for a tiny sliver where a teenage girl sat scrunched. The attendant paused to look at them, removed his oily ball cap and scratched his head.

“Is there a problem?” Kent asked.

“Nah. I was just wonderin’. How much do you weigh anyhow?”

Kent pursed his lips and his eyes doubled in size. “My weight?”

“Yes, sir. I need to be aware of any load concerns before I fire this baby off. We gotta have equal weight distribution.”

“My weight is in no way the business of a simpleton carnival worker such as yourself. In other words, bug off and let us experience some joy in life.” Kent turned to the teenage girl who sat beside him scared and uncomfortable. “Can you believe the nerve of that guy?”

The girl flashed him a worried smile and looked away. The Ferris wheel began to move. “Here we go!” Kent cried out. “Hang on, young lady. Hang on for the ride of your life!”

The wheel turned faster and Kent soon found himself at the very top of the world when it paused to let on other riders below, and he looked down upon the colored canopy of the State Fair in Necromancer, New Mexico and it looked like an electric body to him with all the nerves pulsing in a colorful schematic, the electricity pumping like blood through capillaries not collapsed, the voices and yelps and yawps of all that is good in the human soul and the brighter side of the world all congealed like hot-skinned lovers pressed together in a warm, wet bed on their second wedding anniversary.

Whooo hooo!” Kent cried out, and he stuck his arms out and reached as high as he could so that he could feel the underside edges of the universe against his fingertips. “This is wonderful! Wonderful!” He turned to the teen beside him, her hair flowing behind her, her eyes and mouth open wide to the wonders of the stars. “Isn’t this wonderful!? I hope we never have to go down.”

And then there came a great creaking of metal and the carriage within the wheel where Kent sat violently shifted. The girl screamed. Kent sensed he was slowly tipping to the side. Orange and white sparks shot off in all directions like an electric facial.

The people below scattered in all directions as the great Ferris wheel disengaged from its own riveted cradle and began to collapse. Through the sensation of falling, that sensation where one’s stomach feel so funny but exaggerated now, spiked with real terror, Kent looked down to the ground as it came closer to greet him with a thundering slap, and that is where he saw her.

The fortune teller was standing there, glued to the cotton candy trampled track winding through the carnival row, and she was looking up at him and she was grinning at the same time she was clutching her busted heart, desperately trying to hold in all the stuff in her life that purposely broke it for her. She couldn’t bear for it to all spill out for the whole world to see now. She didn’t want anyone to know how deeply cracked she really was.

And in one final gesture before the metal machine of joyful memories came crashing down upon her to silence her visions forever, she thrust her arms up into the smoky autumn air, and in her hands she clutched a cardboard sign like political protest, and in red paint of blood and fire it read: LOVE IS EVERYTHING. NOW YOU LOSE. WE ALL LOSE.


Check out the latest post at my companion site, Blowtorch Pastoral: The Baker.

The Captain and the Snowman

This captain’s boat skims into the harbor at dim and dawn

The brick of the buildings bruised and brown, the soot of man coming down

Three bars of silver light, sun reflections, eyes of heat and love

Gazing into the past he goes, at the hotel by the sea

The room is painted blue like the ocean, the heavy drapes keep the room dark

A naked slide to the window, to part, to look out

Someone there down on the dock, someone who isn’t someone

The mists graze upon the locks, feed on the shadow, it falls into the water

The betrayal cracks a leaf-littered mirror, he presses on nonetheless

Down to the dining hall the captain goes

His guts all a rumble

Time for some swordfish and slaw, peach pie and indecent exposure

Nerves gnawing like Caligula on grapes

Buttered rum biscuits, naked silhouetted napkins, a firing squad bursts from the kitchen

It’s play bang, play dead time

The pirate fry cook swings his narwhal spike sword with an aim to maim

The ghetto mushrooms have been tainted with habanero rainbows,

The hands of maniacs stick like school glue exponential

The math on the board is so puzzling, a girl with golden hair swallowed the white chalk

Writing out geometric formulaic hypothesis on crackers and pool tables with her soul

The balls of all slowly crawl across the matted green felt, like in a jail release bar

On another star, so afar

Someone wondered if he was coming to the New Year’s ball

A woman dressed as a goat and holding an unripe papaya

She claimed it was to save her from the inevitable pains in her stomach

She said she lived in a pink house on another planet right next door to John Cougar Mellencamp

The cloud of people wondered what gaseous cloud had overtaken her, she was senseless, eccentric

Gravity all nonsense

Like dream gravy in a spaceship, like green Gazoo in a parking lot pole.

They called Captain Wild Nuts to the front to accept his award for being the most solitary sailor of the world.

They wondered how he could do so much alone, he tried to speak between the lines of the camera flashes exploding in his wayward face.

“That’s enough!” he finally cried out. “Put away your pens and your recorders of thought and your digital image makers. I am merely a Puff, like a dragon high in the hedges of some warm English lane.”

He went back to his table to a round of soft unintended applause.

“He’s so weird,” someone whispered loudly.

Captain Chaos took his seat and leaned toward the snowman with the carrot cock for a nose. “Aren’t you afraid you’re going to melt?” the captain asked. “It’s warm in here with all these pointless bodies.”

“I’ve melted through a thousand and one lifetimes… So, no. There is nothing to fear. The other side is wonderful. Congratulations, by the way.”

“Can I ask you something?” the captain said to the snowman with the carrot cock nose and two eyes of coal.

“What’s that, Captain?”

“Do you eat ice cream?”

“I love ice cream… And the best part is, if it drips down on me, it doesn’t matter.”

The captain chuckled. “I want to get out of here. This place is full of stuffy stiffs, and I hate it. I’ve been to this port before, and I know of a wonderful ice cream shoppe just across the road from here. If you’d like to come with me, I’ll buy you a cone or a dish or whatever you’d like.”

“Why thank you, captain. I would like that.”

“You can call me Captain Vanilla, by the way,” the captain said to the snowman as they trudged through winter walkways toward the ice cream shoppe beyond the veil of swirling snow.

“Your name seems to change every five minutes or so. Why is that?”

The captain laughed. “You’re quite sharp for a snowman with no straight edges. The truth is, I’m in hiding. There are people after me.”

“Whatever for?” the snowman wanted to know.

“For being a menace to society, I suppose.”

“But you’re the most solitary sailor of the world… How could you possibly be a menace to society.”

“They just got me pegged, I guess… And I don’t even have a peg leg,” the captain roared.

The bell to the ice cream shoppe jingled like Christmas when they pushed through the door.

A man behind the counter took an instant dislike to them. “Hey! You can’t bring a snowman in here. I don’t want slush all over the floor. He’ll have to wait outside.”

“But kind sir. I promised my friend here an ice cream.”


The captain turned to the snowman. “I’m sorry about this… What kind of ice cream would you like?”

The snowman was crushed. Tears of ash and soot ran down his face. “Oh, never mind. I’ll just go and stand in a field or something and wait for spring to murder me.” He trundled out the door and stood on the walk and looked in through the window.

The captain felt his pain like he felt everyone’s pain. He sharply turned to the man behind the counter and raised a sea-hardened finger. “Do you get your jollies over being mean to people, huh? He’s never done you a day of wrong and you treated him horribly. All he wanted was some ice cream and you made him feel like less of a person for it. What do you have to say for yourself.”

The man behind the counter scowled at the captain. He rolled up his sleeves and crossed two thick arms across his puffed-out chest. “He’s a snowman, not a person. I’ve got rights as a business owner, and I got the say when it comes to who I want to serve and who I don’t want to serve. If you don’t like it, join your weepy friend on the other side of the door.”

The captain backed up and looked in the case at all the different kinds of ice cream. “Do you have pistachio?”

“Not today.”

“How about mint chocolate chip?”

“Do you want a cup or a cone, and how many scoops?”

“Hmm… Two scoops in a cone. One of those pointy ones.”

The gruff man behind the counter went to work making the captain’s ice cream cone. He handed it to him. “That’ll be $4.50.”

The captain dug in his coat for the money and handed it over. “Thanks. Have a fine day.”

“Right,” the man behind the ice cream counter grumbled. “A fine day.”

The captain went to sit on a bench in a snowy park not far from the hotel. He sat there in the flurries licking at his ice cream cone and watching the snowman who was just standing there some ways off near a clump of leafless trees, the branches casting outward like witches’ fingers.

A small group of unruly children from the wrong side of the town were passing through the park. They were making noise and tossing hastily made snowballs at each other. When they reached the snowman, they paused. One of the boys started punching him in the midsection. They all laughed. Another boy started kicking at the snowman. They all laughed some more. Another boy still, yanked the carrot cock nose from the snowman’s face and started stabbing at him with it while the others cheered him on.

The captain had had enough, and he went over to the small cluster of rabble rousers to put a stop to their bullying. “Knock that off, boys! That’s no way to treat a snowman. He’s, my friend.”

They all laughed at the captain in a loud mocking way. “Piss off, old man!” one of the boys yelled at him.

“Yeah, piss off!” said another. “Don’t you have a ferry to catch… Fairy.”

One of them threw a snowball at the captain and it smacked him in the shoulder.

That angered the captain, and he threw his ice cream cone at the boy, and it splattered right in his face. “Yeah, how do you like that ya little shit!” And he looked at the circle of misfits and raised his arms to make himself look more threatening and he made a loud, unintelligible warbling sound like some crazy bird. The boys looked at each other and then decided it would be best if they ran off to get away from this deranged sea captain defending a snowman in a snowy park in a faraway place on a wayward day with little to no meaning but with plenty of meaning just the same.

The captain went to retrieve the snowman’s carrot cock nose and stuck it back in his face. “There you go,” he said as he adjusted it just right. “Now you can breathe again and smell things.”

“Thanks, captain. And thanks for helping out with that brood of bastards. I’m sure they would have done me in completely if you hadn’t come along.”

The captain took a deep breath and looked around. “Well… I’m a captain, that’s what I do. And you’re my friend. I’m sure you would have done the same for me.”

The snowman shifted uncomfortably and tried to smile. “I… Guess I would have.”

“What do you mean, you guess you would have.”

“I mean. Well… It’s not like I’m in love with you or anything. And besides, I’m not one for violence.”

The captain was shocked and took a step back. “Why you… You ungrateful little shit of a snowman! I risked my life for you. I risked my freedom for you! Why, right now that boy could be telling his father that I assaulted him with a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone and the next thing you know, here come the coppers ready to lock me up. All because I considered you a friend and I wanted to protect you! Well, isn’t that a fine kettle of fish!”

The snowman shrugged. “Sorry. That’s just how I feel.”

The captain rushed at the snowman and plucked the carrot cock nose from his face and threw it as hard and as far as he could. “There! I hope you suffocate!”

“I still have a mouth… Hee hee hee,” the snowman snickered.

The captain ferociously rushed him once more and knocked the snowman’s head off. He kicked at it after it thumped to the ground. He screamed loudly as he repeatedly stomped on it.

The cop was watching him from a distance and now spoke into his handset. “Yeah, I found him. Looks like some kind of nut job. He’s smashing the poor kids’ snowman. I’ll make contact.”

The captain was startled and turned when the officer called out to him. “Hey! What are you doing there?”

“Oh, hello officer,” the captain chuckled. “I suppose I look quite silly smashing up this snowman.”

“Uh, huh. A young boy says some man in the park threw an ice cream cone at him. Do you know anything about that?” the cop asked.

The captain sighed. “Yes, officer. That was me. But I only did it because he threw a snowball at me and him and the other boys, they were messing with my friend here.”

“Your friend?”

“The snowman. He came to life. We had a good time together, but then that prick at the ice cream store wouldn’t serve him… Oh, never mind. It’s a long story.”

“Uh, huh. Turn around sir and place your hands behind your back. You can tell your story to the judge.”

The captain stayed quiet as he rode in the back of the police car. He looked out the window at the white, cold world and wondered why he was even born. He looked out at the harbor and his ship was gone. It was gone because it was never there. None of it was ever there. He had simply ridden the waves of the rough surf inside his own head once again. The captain laughed out loud when the jail came into view. He saw the nearby corner bar with the red neon and knew that was going to be his first stop when he got out.


The Weirdo in the Willows (Two of 2)

The Weirdo in the Willows

It was immediately after the Weirdo in the Willows downed the first shot and chased it with a gulp of ale that the door to the Whispering Fox flew open. The professor of psychology from the university of the town was standing there with a tormented look on his face, the gray weather booming behind him. “I found you!” he cried out, and he closed his umbrella and stepped inside to the center of the pub. “Good townspeople,” Professor Tongo began, moving around in a slow circle as he looked at them. “I must implore you to heed my attention for I have discovered something far beyond amazing!”

A burly and hairy man in the back stood and raised his mug. “Did you find your wife in bed with another man yet again, professor!?”

The pub roared with taunting laughter.

“No, you fool! I’m talking about a great scientific discovery… And it sits right here among you.” He moved toward the Weirdo in the Willows at the bar. He clamped a hand on his shoulder, looked down at him and smiled. “My good people, our little friend here possesses a great gift to benefit all of mankind, but he has refused to let me help him share it. He’s being selfish.”

Another man in the back stood and cried out, “I’m not surprised… He’s a real dick!”

There was a communal murmur of agreement.

The Weirdo in the Willows hopped off the stool and went to the center of the pub, thick hands animated in the smoky air. “Oh come on now!” he began in a furor. “I’m not a dick! I’m just weird, that’s all. There’s nothing wrong with being weird!”

A rotund woman in muddy pink and with a barrelful of intelligent breasts stepped out of the crowd. “He’s weird all right. I heard Farmer Brown caught him in one of his fields having his way with a cantaloupe. A cantaloupe!”

The stewing crowd groaned with disgust.

“It was an experiment!” the Weirdo in the Willows screamed out. “I once read somewhere that the interior of a cantaloupe closely resembles the feeling of being inside a real woman. I was merely curious for the sake of science. It was research!” 

The rotund woman with intelligent breasts scoffed. “Weren’t no experiment or research. You were lonely and horny as a toad because no real woman would ever lie down with a weirdo such as yourself.”

The crowd cheered and laughed. Then the professor intervened. “Please, please, everyone! Settle down. This is not the time for mockery. I’m telling you; he has a great gift. I have seen it myself this very day!”

A handsome ranger of the hills and hollows stepped out of a dark corner smoking a curved pipe. He spoke in a soft yet stern voice. “What does this so-called gift have to do with any of us?” he wanted to know. “What do I get out of it? If it were up to me, this weirdo would be banished to the furthest reaches of the world forever and never be allowed to return.”

Another man with a hoarse voice and crazy gray hair shot up from the comfort of a cushioned seat. “He’s right. I say we escort this perverted weirdo out of town tonight!”

“Tonight!” the crowd repeated in unison. And then there was a great howling and roaring and the stamping of feet in heavy boots and shoes.

The professor was determined to sway them his way and climbed atop of the bar and shouted out, “Quiet!”

The noise retreated. “Let me show you what he can do,” Professor Tongo begged them. “I promise, you will all be amazed, astounded, blown away… Please, show them what you had shown me in the forest.”

“And if I refuse?” the Weirdo in the Willows said.

“Then you will have surely disappointed all of mankind,” the professor answered. “No one can live with that heavy of a burden, my friend.”

The Weirdo in the Willows thought about it for a moment. “All right,” he said, and the crowd stepped back and formed a circle around him as he moved closer to the center of the pub. He sighed and reached up to remove his red hat with the limp point.

The crowd gasped when they saw what was revealed to them. “He’s some sort of a wizard!” someone cried out.

The professor addressed them. “He’s not a wizard. I’ve concluded that his mind must be some sort of a portal connected to the entire universe.” He looked at them as he spoke like he would in a lecture hall. “I was being foolish in my search for the brain of the Earth when this fellow right here was in possession of the brain of the universe, the brain of all time, past and present and even the future.”

“It looks like he’s got a crystal ball on top of his head,” someone said. “He’s no wizard. He’s some sort of a warlock! We need to string him up and burn him!”

The crowd roared.

“No!” the professor screamed. “He’s a misunderstood enigma. His mind is sublime.”

“But what does it do?” a young woman called out. “What’s so wonderful about it?”

The professor jumped down from atop the bar and instructed her. “Please, miss. Step over here. I want you to look into the dome, look into his mind, slip deeply into forever and beyond and I assure you, you will be more than amazed.”

The woman was skeptical as she moved closer to the Weirdo in the Willows. She shielded her big eyes as she stood over him and looked down into the glowing half orb protruding from his head. “It’s so bright,” she said.

“It won’t hurt you,” the professor reassured her. “It’s perfectly safe.”

She peered closer into the flickering brain. And then closer still until her face was nearly touching it. She stayed like that for several minutes while the silenced crowd around her looked on in wonder.

Then the young woman yelped and suddenly popped up and stumbled back. “Oh my god!” she screamed.

“Yes! Yes! What is it you saw? You saw God!?” the professor demanded to know.

“That little weirdo indecently touched me!” the young woman said. “I felt his fat little hand on my privates! This is all just a sick charade for a quick feel. It’s insulting and despicable!”

“That’s it!” someone screamed from the gallery. “Let’s get him!”

The angry crowd went wild as they closed in on the Weirdo in the Willows, but he was shifty and quick and dropped to the floor and crawled through the chaotic tangle of legs toward the front door and out of The Whistling Fox. Once in the free of the crisp air, he got to his feet, jumped up with legs already spinning and he shot off into the coming darkness like a mystical and Funkadelic bullet.

It was after, back inside the electrified and simmering snug of The Whistling Fox, that the young woman who was groped by the Weirdo in the Willows moved toward Professor Tongo, sneering, and wagging an accusing finger. “This is all your fault,” she seethed. “You’re the one who brought this weirdo unto us and falsely touted him as some miracle of the universe. I was nearly raped because of you!”

“No. No. It’s not my fault,” the professor pleaded as he too retreated toward the door. “I was deceived as well. I’m a victim just as you are.”

“You’re no victim,” the young woman said. “You’re a charlatan!”

The crowd, now realizing that the Weirdo in the Willows had somehow escaped, directed their anger toward the professor, led on by the young woman who had been so deceptively touched between the legs by a little man who looked like a gnome, a little man who had devised his day of wicked trickery with exact precision… And he seemingly got away with it.

The hotheaded mob chased the professor of psychology out of the pub and into the cold, wet streets, lamplights casting glossy glows of muted blue and gold upon the scape. They chased him for a very long way, eventually out of the town and into the country toward the shore of the cold sea. In the growing darkness, the professor had not realized he was leading them to the edge of a very high cliff that looked down on the crashing waters far below. He suddenly teetered on the edge, barely catching his breath when he saw the blossom of their communal rage bloom larger, glowing with torchlight and coming ever closer.

Too exhausted to run any further, the professor made the daring choice of slipping over the edge of the cliff and clutching precariously to a jut of rock. He clung there for dear life in the wind, the cold, and the uncertainty. He waited. He could hear their growling roars coming closer. He waited and waited more. And then there they were suddenly above him like blue shadows, coming over the cliff and tumbling past him in a shower of terrified screams. The dynamic energy of their clustered rush bred a force of perpetual motion so strong that it made it impossible for them to stop or even slow down. They kept flying over the edge, one by one, or two by two, or even big clumps of three, four, five, or six.

The professor looked down in horror as the bodies soared to certain death below him. Some of the bodies hit the jagged rocks, others the swallowing waters. One by one the screams were silenced with a muffled thud or splash until there were no longer any screams to hear at all.

The professor was beginning to slip from the rock and part of him wanted to just let go and meet his fate with the others at the bottom of the great cliff. But another part of him agreed to hang on, to work his way back up and over the edge to save himself. And this is what he did, albeit with great struggle. When one of his hands finally clawed the edge, that is when the two strong hands of another took hold of his arm and pulled him to safety.

The professor panted and wept into the earth pressed against his cold, wet face. He then turned his eyes upward and there he saw in the glow of the illuminated half orb nestled in his skull, the grinning face of the Weirdo in the Willows. The professor smiled at first, and then he laughed out loud. “You perverted little shit! You nearly got me killed.”

The Weirdo in the Willows smirked and gestured with his hands. “But here you are to tell the tale, professor. I guess that makes me a hero… Not a weirdo.”

Professor Tongo got to his knees and then stood with a groan. “I suppose you’re right. Thank you. But how did you know where I even was? And why did you even come to my aid?”

“I see things. I know things. I feel things. I also pay very close attention to the details of the world… Even when I get accused of being a weirdo. And though it seems I do not possess a heart, I in fact do, kind sir.”

They started walking together, away from the cliff’s deadly edge and toward the small glow of the town in the distance.

“I’m sorry I tried to exploit you… And I promise I won’t call you a weirdo anymore,” Professor Tongo said.


“On one condition.”

“And what’s that?”

“I know there’s more to that glowing brain of yours than you’re letting on, my little friend. I want you to come work with me at the university.”

“Like an associate?”

“More like an intern,” the professor said with a gentle laugh.

The Weirdo in the Willows sighed and then finally agreed. “Okay. I’ll do it. I desperately need a change in my life anyways. All these magical potions are turning me into a weirdo.”

They both laughed at that.

“Good,” the professor said, and he reached down and gently patted the little gnome-like man on the back in a gesture of friendship. Then he half smiled with a curious thought. “So… What was that thing about cantaloupe?”


You can read the previous part of this story HERE, on

The Weirdo in the Willows (One of 2)

Weirdo in the Willows. A line of leafless trees in the winter. A bright yellow disc, the sun, punctuates the sky.

There’s a Weirdo in the Willows. He looks like a garden gnome but he’s a real person. He’s not ceramic. He’s not animated. The paint on his face is chipped, though. He’s short. He’s stocky. He’s tricky. The tip of his red hat droops. His shovel is rusty. His hands are rough, weathered, thick. He smells of good soil and broken dreams.

When he’s not sashaying along through the willows, sometimes weeping along with them as they do, sometimes weeping so much he cannot forage for mushrooms the way he likes to. It’s one of his hobbies. He makes potions, too. He makes them with the mushrooms and medicinal herbs he finds on his long, enchanted walks. He enjoys out-of-mind experiences just as much as out-of-body experiences.

The potions are strange potions and he cooks them up in a big black kettle that rests above a roaring fire in the low kitchen he has in his hut, his home, his hacienda, his hole, his stone bungalow where the flames of his potion fire paint the walls a warm orange, like marmalade on buttered bread, and that same fire keeps him snug like toast during those cold, lonely nights, snug like Alex DeLarge down in the candy-apple red Duke of New York as he plots some criminal scheme. But this wasn’t New York. It wasn’t even Old York. It was just plain old Middle of The Road York, out there on the edge of the forest where the willows mingle with the oaks and the animals and the waters and all the strange things of the night.

The Weirdo in the Willows likes to sit at the self-hewn wooden table with a mug of chemical fear set before him. It’s always exciting to him when he tests out a new, steaming elixir. His hands usually tremble as he brings the mug to his mouth for the first taste. He sips some in, it most often tastes funny. Sometimes he spits it out. But mostly he smacks at his earthy gnome lips and then releases an exaggerated “Hmmmmmmmm… I wonder what will happen to me now.”

Most of the time he just tips over right there at the table, falls asleep and has very potent dreams full of vivid colors and strange people in strange places he had never been to before. When he finally wakes up there might be a stream of new sunlight coming in one of the small windows, and it stirs with the leftover ashen mist that floats about in the air. He usually groans about stiffness and then moves himself over to the small bed on the other side of the stone hole, the bungalow, the hideaway, the fortress at the edge of the forest. He works himself in beneath a heavy red blanket, pops the hat off his head and tries to get a few hours of proper rest before going out into the frightening big world.

It was around noon when the Weirdo in the Willows woke up. He remembered it was a special day. He was going to the town beyond the great hedge for an afternoon of spirits and wanderings and starings and maybe even some peepings and tricks. He sat up on the edge of the bed and rubbed his thick, rough hands together in sinister delight. He giggled oddly and hopped down onto the floor.

He quickly busied himself with making hot cereal and a cup of wild mushroom whack tea to add a bit of sharpness to the day. It was so hot, and he sipped carefully between spoonfuls of the cereal. He chuckled all along the way. “Oh, it’s going to be quite the day,” he said aloud in a cheeping sing-song way. “A day of fun and madness and maybe even a spanking or two… Hee Hee! Oh my.”

Once finished with his breakfast and a proper cleaning up, he stood on a stool at a high window and looked out. The sky was gray and growling. The tops of the trees were lightly swaying so he knew it would be a walk full of blustery kisses on his robust cheeks. He happily sighed. “Oh, I do hope it rains or snows or both! Hee Hee!” And he hopped down, washed his face, and cleaned his odd teeth and bundled himself up for a day against the world and its weather. He grabbed his pack that hung near the door and went out into it.

The Weirdo in the Willows walked against the wind and the beginning spits of cold rain. Even though the world around him was gray, he began to see it all in bright colors that moved like rainbow syrup. It wasn’t long before he came upon a familiar clearing and there saw the town’s professor of psychology deep in thought beneath an umbrella.

“Professor Tongo?… What are you doing?” the Weirdo in the Willows asked.

The professor spoke without looking over at him. “Quiet now. I’m studying the brain of the Earth.”

“The Earth has a brain?”

The professor sighed in perturbance. “In all actuality, or theoretically, the Earth is a brain, kind sir… Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to carry on with my research in peace.”

“That’s all very interesting,” the Weirdo in the Willows said. “But would you take a moment to study my brain? There’s something quite whimsical about it.” And with that he removed his cap and there atop his head was the protrusion of a glass dome and inside the dome was snow and bright colors like the aurora borealis and plastic people and things. “Go on. Peek in there and you’ll forget all about your Earth brain theory.”

Somewhat intrigued, Professor Tongo carefully moved toward him, his narrow eyes puzzled, the lengthy and thin body slightly trembling. He stood tall over the Weirdo in the Willows, adjusted his glasses, and looked down into his volcanic cranium. “That’s right. Get a good look.”

The narrow eyes of the professor widened with everlasting sweet madness as he looked deep into the swirling scene of kaleidoscopic winter of liquid clowns and clouds and beyond in the realm of somewhere else where dreams are always bright and colorful and vivid like psychedelic funk and never let one down.

“It’s… It’s amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like it,” the stodgy professor reported. He suddenly stood tall again, the soft rain turned to pillowy sleet poetically dripping off the edges of his umbrella, his narrow slit of a mouth now agape and struggling to utter speech. “I want you to return to the university with me. I need to study you further.”

The Weirdo in the Willows replaced the cap atop his head and the vision machine in his brain automatically shut down. “No can do. I’ve got plans in town today. I have no time for your upper crust pretentiousness.”

“But you must!” Professor Tongo demanded.

“But I must not! I’m going to the pub for socializing and other feats of mischief… If you’ll excuse me now,” the Weirdo in the Willows said, and he jumped a little bit in the air and quickly moved his feet without gravity before dropping back down and heading off.

“No!!” the professor yelled out after him, and he scrambled forth toward the gnome-like little man and stood in his path. “This is far too important to ignore. This could be one of the greatest breakthroughs in psychological theory in eons. You must be studied. You owe it to society.”

The Weirdo in the Willows looked up at him. “My good friend. I owe society nothing!

“But you do.”

“I do not! What has society ever done for me except leave me banished and encapsulated in a shell of emotional torture without a hint of empathy or love. Society is full of ill-hearted beings with no other purpose than to make the world a horrible place for everyone else. Society has done nothing but kick me down, spit on me, and shun me, and now I am returning the favor! Good day.” 

The Weirdo in the Willows walked into The Whistling Fox and strolled up to the bar. The other patrons there quieted and watched him with distrustful eyes. When the barkeep saw him, he groaned and tried to duck away… But it was too late.

“Hey Sam!” the Weirdo in the Willows called out as he made his way to a stool and hopped skyward to sit upon it. “If you line ‘em up, I’ll knock ‘em back. I want to get obliterated! Hee Hee!”

Sam the barkeep rolled his eyes toward the small troublemaker. “You’re not gonna get all wicked and weird in here again are ya? Because if you do, I’m tossing your ass.” Sam moved closer and pointed a finger that looked like a crooked breakfast sausage. “Because of you, little fella, I got customers that swore they’ll never come back here. You’re eating into my livelihood because of your damn weirdness. I have a right mind to refuse you service… And I can do that.”

The Weirdo in the Willows looked around the warm pub of brown and cream, an orange fire crackling away in the stony wall on the far side. The faces that sat at small tables or just leaned were dirty and angry as they looked back at him. He threw his hands up in the air “What!?”

No one answered and he turned back around to the bar just as Sam started setting down a row of small glasses and filling them with amber liquid. He filled a frosted mug with ale and set that down as well. “You finish that, and you’re all done, and you go home. Got it?”

The Weirdo in the Willows hissed in reluctant agreement. “Fine. But believe you me, this is the last time I’m coming in here.”

Sam the barkeep chuckled. “Good.”

This is the first of two parts. Look for the second and final episode, coming soon to As always, thank you for reading and supporting independent content creators!

The Dweller in the Christmas Mustard (Ep.4)

The strange, tall man in the black and cornsilk-colored suit carried Oswald like a dead body. He was casually walking on a long pathway beneath an arch of treetops. He had a tan bowler hat on his head with a black band around it. The sun was filtering through the leaves above him and birds of various colors and sizes were twittering and fluttering about. The young girl was walking beside him, dwarfed by the strange man’s massive frame.

“To the garden?” he asked in a drawn-out drawl without looking down at her.

She thought for a moment as she strolled. “No. I don’t want to plant this one. I like him for some reason… Even though he can bristle my hairs at times. It’s a lovely day. Let’s take him to the overlook and set him down and see what happens.”

The strange man looked straight ahead. “As you wish.”

At the end of the pathway, the sky opened in a splash of blue and white and brightness from the sun. They emerged onto a large flat terrace. They were surrounded by green mountains and there was the sound of water falling from them and the water gravitated like a rush of tears down into deep blue and crystal pools. The pools filled and spilled at the base creating trickles of streams that turned into a more forceful flow that eventually ran from the foothills and meandered out among the land and carved a beautiful gash within it. Stretching up and away from the pools and the river were golden yellow fields and dark fields and medium green fields and even fields the color of rust and canned pumpkin. Some of the fields were wild. Others were groomed and tilled and planted and plucked. Beyond the fields the paths and streams vanished into a veil of high forest, and beyond the forest was the road to somewhere else.

The strange man walked toward the far edge of the terrace and cautiously peered over the short stone wall topped with a bowed silver rail. He nervously absorbed all that wonderous landscape below. He could see jutting stone. He could hear moving water. He sensed unfathomable distance, and he looked up at the sky above him and wondered if he could lick at the bottom of the clouds like they were ice cream. He was usually a very brave man and very little could unnerve him. But the height they were at made his stomach feel uneasy and his heart thump. He turned to look back at the girl. “If you would reconsider this man’s fate… I would like to throw him over and just be done with this chapter of my life.”

“Ivan!” the girl screamed out. “Absolutely not. Set him down over here in that lovely lounge chair.” She pointed sternly.

Ivan looked disappointed but did what was asked of him. He always did what was asked of him because that was his job as the princess’ butler and personal aide. “I suggest you go back to your quarters and study up on your humanities lessons,” she said. “This obsession with throwing people over the edge has got to come to a stop.”

He bowed. “My apologies. As you wish, my lady.”

Her name was Marmalade. Princess Marmalade. Her father, King Lambert the 15th, enjoyed marmalade on his bread so much that he named his only daughter after it. Some of the people in the land made fun of the king for naming his daughter after a fruit jam. “What next?” the talk among them went. “Is he going to name his next child Plumb or Cucumber!?”

And now this very Princess Marmalade was up on the high terrace sitting across from Oswald Madness and watching him regain consciousness. “Hello,” she said. “Are you feeling any better?”

He had a rougher exterior than usual. His hair was a tussled mess, and his clothes were wrinkled. He squinted in the sunlight pouring down and spilling its golden glory everywhere. “What’s going on now?” he wanted to know. “Why do you keep knocking me out, or putting me under, or whatever the hell you’re doing to me?”

The princess stood and looked at him. She sighed. “I don’t know why. I’m afraid I don’t fully understand the inner workings of my father’s regime. He likes to flex his muscle and keep people in line. He calls it the right of his authority. He often goes on and on about how the people must be kept in line otherwise they will revolt and disrupt his royal lifestyle.”

“You don’t go for that kind of thing?”

She started walking around him. “Having royal blood isn’t always a blessing, I’m afraid.”

“I thought you were just a simple farm girl… In the beginning, I mean. When I first saw you at the airport food court.” He slowly shook his head. “What happened to all that? Where’s that reality?”

She imitated explosiveness with an outward motion of her fingers and a puff of her cheeks. “Poof. Gone.” The girl stopped in front of him. “That was a very, very long time ago, Mr. Madness. I’ve changed. I’ve grown.”

He scoffed at that ridiculous notion. “It was just a day or two ago. And you look mostly the same to me.”

“I’m not the same. I’m never the same. I’m constantly evolving,” she argued, and she threw her hands up in the air. “But I can’t keep up with it. All these changes are wearing me down.”

He sympathized with her for a moment but then his thoughts became selfish. “What do you want with me? Can’t I just go back to Denver and get on with my life?”

“Which life is that?”

Oswald stood and towered over her. “My life!” he said, and he hit his chest with a fist to show he was serious. “The life I came here with. The life you stole!”

The princess looked up at him. “Ivan wanted to throw you over the rail to certain death. I stopped him. I didn’t steal your life, I saved it!”

“Who the hell is Ivan?” Oswald wondered aloud.

“The big man who brought you chocolate milk.”

“He wanted to kill me. Why!?”

The girl exhaled. “It’ a hobby of his. But I’m trying to cure him of it.”

His silver eyes, filled with doubt and suspicion, fell upon her. “Where did you get that Nirvana shirt?”

She looked down at what she was wearing and smiled. “One of their concerts. Los Angeles. May 29th, 1991.” She looked back up at him in complete seriousness.

“Bullshit. That’s impossible. You weren’t even born yet.”

“Mr. Madness… I’ve seen a thousand lives and have uttered a thousand painful goodbyes. I was there.”


Go HERE to read the previous episode.

Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 4)

He watched her from the safety of a window inside as Gracelyn poked at the worn strip of earth below the swing with the tip of a shoe. She slowly swayed in the cool air of the playground, oblivious. Her thoughts were listless, yet on fire. She gazed into the emptiness around her and then bit into a hard apple she had plucked from a tree near the schoolyard. It tasted too sour in her mouth, and she threw it.

Astron Puffin turned away from the window and went to stand before the corkboard in the art classroom where he admired Gracelyn’s crayon drawing of her pastoral life. His eyes slowly scanned every sloppy detail — the clear-blue sky that was too blue, the camel hump green hills that lacked realistic detail, the crooked house in the middle of a field, the lake that was unnaturally circular, the red lighthouse she left structurally unsound.

He smiled and laughed to himself. Then he reached out, tugged the drawing away from its place beneath the pin, folded it, and stuffed it into his pants pocket before going outside.

He walked boldly to the playground, her back turned to him as she floated in the air atop the swing. He said nothing when his hands grabbed the chains and drew her back like an arrow on a bow. She screamed when the hands released her, and she shot forward. When she swung back, the hands pushed against her lower back, and she swung forward again. She struggled to twist around to see who it was. Then again, the hands pushed against her back with more force than before.

“Stop!” she cried out. And again, the hands pushed against her when she swung back, but this time, Gracelyn jumped off before going too high.

“What are you doing!?” she screamed out, tangled up in a cloud of dust on the ground.

Astron Puffin was startled by her reaction. “I was just giving you a push. You looked sad. I thought that you might like to go high on the swing.”

“You scared me half to death!”

“I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t sneak up on somebody like that… It’s unsettling.”

“I’m sorry,” Astron repeated. “I didn’t mean to unsettle you. I thought we could be friends… It’s such a lonely place, don’t you think?”

Gracelyn huffed in frustration as she got up and brushed the dirt away. “Why are you still here?” she wanted to know, stern in her tone. “Why do you keep following me? Can’t you just leave me alone!?”

Astron froze for a moment. He didn’t answer her. He couldn’t answer her — no thought that made sense came to his mind quick enough.

“Well!?” Gracelyn demanded.

He turned away from her and ran off.

“Wait!” Gracelyn called after him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.” Then she watched him get smaller on the horizon until his body completely vanished beyond the edge of the dark woods.

Gracelyn meandered as she rode her bike back home from school. She looked up at the sky. The sunlight was dying earlier every day now. Summer was over for good, and the Earth was moving toward autumn. “At least in this part of what’s left of the world,” Gracelyn reminded herself. She slowly shook her head. “I’m getting very bad at talking to myself. I should find myself a doctor of the mind.” She laughed at the absurdity of that thought.

When she got back to the big white farmhouse she called home, she lazily dropped her bike in the yard, scrambled up the steps and went inside. She immediately locked the door behind her and went around the house lighting a cathedral’s worth of candles. Moses came out of his hiding place, twisted around her legs, and demanded to be fed by means of loud, repetitive meows.

“All right, all right. At least let me catch my breath and get situated,” she said to him. Then something caught the attention of her mind, like an invisible tapping on the shoulder, and she slowly walked around the house to investigate the feeling. Gracelyn carried an LED lantern that swung on hooks attached to a handle to light her way. She didn’t like the lantern as much as she did the candles. The light of the lantern was too harsh, too bright, too cold, but it was the best way to crawl through the darkness that fell upon the house in the deep of night.

She poked her head in all the rooms on the first floor — the living room with the old furniture, musty drapes, and cabinet TV; the front parlor with its large bay windows; the study with its shelves full of books now dismantled by technology — before going up the stairs to where the bedrooms and a bathroom were. She stood in a long hallway and held the lantern out in front of her. All the doors to the rooms were closed despite the fact she always left them open. She went to the door of her bedroom and pressed the side of her head against it and listened. Once she was satisfied there were no sounds inside, she reached for the doorknob, turned it, and went in.

Gracelyn was startled to see that the doors to her closet had been thrown open and now all the clothes she had inside it were piled on her bed. “Robbers searching for something,” she breathed. “Or lunatics.” The air in her room felt cold and she looked and saw that her bedroom window was open. She went to the sill and peered out, but the gathering darkness provided no clues as to who or what had entered the house. “Someone is trying to trick me,” she said to herself. “Or at least scare me.”

She sighed, uneasy. Gracelyn reached up and pulled the window down tight and locked it.

When she returned to the kitchen, she cranked a can opener around the top of a can of cat food and plopped the factory churned seafood delight into a bowl. Moses didn’t wait for her to set the bowl on the floor but instead jumped up on the counter and ate right there. Gracelyn stroked his fur as he gobbled up the food.

She let Moses be and went out the back door that was off the kitchen and walked into the backyard. A screen door with a spring that croaked like a frog when it was stretched slammed behind her. Tall trees fenced in the yard on three sides. An opening to the left led to an old barn and the fields and wilds beyond. Gracelyn went to the firepit she had constructed out of stones, added a few new sticks and small logs, then lit some crumpled-up paper beneath the wood with a Bic lighter until it caught and spread. Once she had a lively fire going, she stood there for a moment, mesmerized by the orange light and the soft crackling of sticks and the sizzle of sap.

Dusk was retreating and full night was coming on and with it the first few lights in the heavens flickered to life. She looked up, hoping to find something she could wish upon. But she gave up quickly because the heaviness of the world came upon her again like it so frequently did. She looked back at the house and the gently shaking soft orange glows of the candles in the windows. She saw a silhouette of Moses, licking a paw and washing his face just beyond the screen door. She tried to smile but found it hard. The thought that someone had possibly been inside the house frightened her. Then she realized she had forgotten to look in the basement. It was too dark for that now, she decided.

She looked up again at space. “I can’t stay here forever,” she said to the sheet of stars unfurled across the night. “I need to find a way to get out. I’m afraid.”



Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 3)

Gracelyn spun around and pressed her back to the counter. Her heart started thumping inside her chest, lit up with fear. “Who said that? Who’s there?” she called out.

The door to the stall slowly opened with the squeak of a metallic mouse. A small man, husky, and with a very round face emerged. There was some gray in his hair that was creeping out from beneath a crooked pointed winter knit cap that sat upon his head. The salt and pepper scruff on his face was uneven, choppy like a soured sea, as if he had used a dull butcher knife to shave. He had a lot of wrinkles around his cold blue eyes, the skin like rivulets streaming in from somewhere beyond his temples. He looked tired, Gracelyn thought, but not overly threatening. “Who are you?” she asked.

“The name’s Astron Puffin,” he said, and he spoke with an accent, like from the Old Country on the other side of the planet.

As he grew closer, Gracelyn saw that his skin had an almost pale-green hue to it, like he had been washed in over diluted watercolor paint. “Are you sick?” she wanted to know.

“No. I’m not sick at all. I swear it. Would I even be here if I was?”

“Right. Here. Then why is it you’re in the girls’ bathroom? I’ve never seen you around school before.”

The man looked around at all the pipes and pink and porcelain, confused, as if he had just discovered where he was. “I don’t know. I just figured it might be the safest place to be at the moment.”

He stepped forward and Gracelyn shifted away from him. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he assured her. “I just wanted to wash my hands.” He was not much taller than she was, but definitely wider. “I’ve never hurt anyone in my whole life. Yet here I am, left to suffer alone in a world such as this.”

“You said you thought my speech was wonderful. How did you hear my speech?”

“I was hiding outside an open window, near your classroom,” he said, shaking water from his hands and then rubbing them against his clothes to dry them. “And even the softest voices carry far in this weight of silence.”

“Have you been watching me? Following me?” Gracelyn demanded to know.

Astron Puffin turned his moon-like and pale-green face away from her. “You’re the first person I have seen in a very long time,” he shyly said. “Please don’t be upset. I was just trying to make sure you weren’t evil. I suppose I’ve decided you aren’t.”

“You’re right. I’m the farthest thing from evil, most of the time,” Gracelyn pointed out. “But where did you come from?”

“I had my own cabbage farm, far over the hills to the west. The nights grew to be too long and lonely and much too dark. I set off to see if I could find someone else. To keep madness at bay… And that’s how I came upon you.”

Gracelyn hesitated for a moment and then moved toward the door. She quickly turned to look back at him there. She was scared yet felt pity for him. “It was nice meeting you, however strange of a meeting it was, but I really should get to my next class before I’m late,” she said.

Astron looked hurt. “Oh. All right, then. I shouldn’t keep you from your lessons.”

“Maybe I’ll see you around again, somewhere,” Gracelyn added, in an effort to give him a small bit of hope for whatever future he had.

Astron attempted a smile. “Yes, perhaps. I’d like that. Good luck with your schoolwork… What was your name?”

The girl hesitated for a moment. “Gracelyn,” she said, and she went out of the bathroom and into the dead hallway that glistened with lonely solar energy falling across the plains of the universe.

Gracelyn sat alone in her art classroom. She reached into a box of crayons and retrieved a periwinkle blue. She held it under her nose and smelled it deeply. “I just love the scent of a fresh crayon,” she said to the quiet air. Then she applied the tip of the crayon to a blank sheet of drawing paper and moved her right hand back and forth until a sky appeared.

She then retrieved from the box two shades of green, a burnt umber, and an earthy yellow to draw the hills, forests, and fields that surrounded her home. She mixed white, and gray, and black to construct the house. She grabbed a darker shade of blue to color in the lake and used the gray and black again to create a stone pier. Finally, she grabbed brick red to create a lighthouse that sat tall at the tip of the pier, and silver to add a shiny light that looked out all around the world.

When she was done, she held the drawing in front of her and looked at it. She cocked her head to the left and studied it more intently. Once she was satisfied with it, she signed her name at the bottom in bright orange — Gracelyn Polk, sixth grade, 413 years old. She then got up and walked her drawing to the front of the classroom, turned to face the empty desks, and held it up for no one to see.

“This is my drawing of where I live,” Gracelyn began — speaking much more confidently than she did in her history class earlier — and then she pointed with a finger. “This is my beautiful house. I live in the country, surrounded by lovely green hills and trees and golden-brown fields. It’s all very pastoral — that means being peaceful in the lands beyond the broken cities. Further off, you can see the great lake, and there’s the lighthouse with its bright beacon guiding safe passage for all… Thank you.”

Gracelyn turned and stuck her drawing to a corkboard with a push pin. She went back to her desk, put the crayons back in their box, and put the box back into a wine-colored cubby hole in the cubby-hole cabinet near the front of the room. She looked up and saw the big poster that showed the map of the entire world. Her eyes scanned it for a moment. There were so many red Xs drawn over so many countries. She sighed with faint hope, faint promise. She pulled the classroom door open, walked the somber corridors alone, and went to the playground for another desolate recess.