Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Desert Wind

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge. " - Raymond Chandler, "Red Wind"

There was no assigned sentence this time, so I took the above Chandler quote as an inspiration.


It was a dark and stormy night... Well, actually, it wasn't. The full moon, bright and orange, was burning in the night sky like a Chinese lantern. The sight of it filled all the dogs with indescribable yearnings and dispair, till they were howling their songs of unrequited love into the night.

There were hot winds blowing from the desert, carrying with them dust and ancient curses. They rattled the windows, overturned all the planters, played pinball with the garden furniture, and brought down the old willow tree in the neighbors' yard. They knocked the whole world off-kilter.

As always, Marge Cooper soothed her frayed nerves with a romance novel. Ruefully she gazed at the cover of her latest. The man on it looked a little like Ben; more handsome, but with similar dark curls and hazel eyes. A small sigh escaped her lips.

Back when they met, Ben had seemed like a romantic hero to her. He had been handsome and quiet. Every Sunday they had gone to the movies, and afterwards stopped at the diner. Over their milkshakes he had looked at her, with his dark eyes full of sorrow. She had been certain Ben was brooding over some dark secret, or lost love. She had spun fanciful fantasies about her love and unwavering devotion freeing Ben's heart from it's dark prison, and two of them falling into each others' arms, lips burning hot like their love...

After the wedding Marge had gradually realized that Ben was so quiet because he had nothing to say. His needs were basic: food, sex, beer, sleep, tv - not necessarily in that order. That look in his eyes was not sorrow, just indigestion. Having a conversation, going for a walk, a picnic weren't among his interests. The only time she saw him animated was while watching "the game" on tv. He would sit down with a beer or two, or six, and then he would hoot or curse, shout at the set. There was always some "game" on. Football, baseball, basketball... What was it with men and balls? What made a bunch of testosterone cases chasing after a round object so engrossing?

It was awfully hard with all that noise to concentrate on her books. At first she used to try to distract him with romantic overtures. Later she just gave him the silent treatment. Not that he noticed. Well, at least it was quiet now. Ben was sitting on the couch, feet on the coffee table, beer in front of him, as always, but there was not a sound. She supposed she should pull that butcher knife out of his chest eventually. Not yet though, the knife sealed the wound, if she removed it blood might start spurting all over her clean carpet. She’d read that bit about knife wounds and blood in a medieval story about the handsome nobleman and the milkmaid. She’d just have to wait.

She picked up her book: It was a dark and stormy night…

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ho Ho Ho

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol

"Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh."

It was the 24th day of December. An elderly gent was sitting at the edge of the swimming pool, feet dangling into the water, eyes gazing out to the ocean. He wore shorts and a Hawaiian shirt of dancing hula girls. A content little smile played on his lips.

S. Claus was pleased with himself. Selling the business and moving to Florida had been the best decision of his life. Thanks to a more active life style and healthier eating habits he had lost twenty-five pounds in the past year. His bouts of seasonal depression were eliminated by the constant sunlight. Finally he got to trim his scraggly beard. To be honest, he had never enjoyed resembling the aging Jerry Garcia, but he had been expected to maintain his trademark image. He much preferred the pointy mustache and short beard. He liked to think that he looked a little like Colonel Sanders.

364 days previously

He dragged himself into his office by noon. The elves of course got the day off - it was in their contract - but he didn't have that luxury. Mrs. Claus, filling in for the secretary, was already there, waiting for him. She trailed him into the office weighed down with a stack of papers. He slumped into his chair with a groan. One would think that on the day after the 'Big Push' he could have some peace, but no.

"The elves are demanding a pay raise." She began. "The union representative would like to see you early in January."

"Fine. What else?"

"There are the complaints. A Bobby Jones from Melbourne states that you brought him the purple Subsonic Mutant Ninja Warrior instead of the black one. Suzie Walker from Springfield says she wanted a real pony..."

He raised his hand to stop her.

"Tell them all to stuff themselves. Anything else?"

She rolled her eyes, but continued.

"According to Ernie, the mechanic, the sled is about to throw an axle, and the differential is on the fritz."

"What the bloody hell does that even mean?"

"That it'll be expensive."

He slumped deeper into his chair, feeling the seed of a raging migraine growing behind his eyes, while she kept rifling through the papers.

"Oh yeah. A Mr. Bezos called. He'd like to discuss a business proposition."

"I've never heard of him."

"He is the CEO of a company called Amazon. They sell stuff."

"What stuff?"

"Well, pretty much everything. I think he wants to buy us out."

His eyes glinted with interest at last.

"Call that Bozo..."


"...call him, and set up a meeting."

Mrs. Claus was right, Mr. Bezos' interest was in acquisition. Mr. Claus concentrated on keeping a straight face while the lawyers battled out the details. Once they were all gone he could let go, and laugh like he hadn’t laughed in a long time. Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Day in the Country

Émile Zola: Germinal

"So, you fancy going over the road for a bit of looting and pillage?"


"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

They were standing in the shadows, waiting for the sun to dip under the horizon, waiting patiently, as always. Times like this Mr. Brown got talkative.

"See my dear Will, what the bard is alluding to is how the names we give things aren't inherent, not ‘true’, but a construct, and meaning exist only because we as a society have agreed upon the name of things."

Will had no idea what Mr. Brown meant, but nodded. He knew that Mr. Brown considered himself cultured and well read.

"... and just as the name of a thing is not the thing itself, the appearance of it isn’t either - as Monsieur Magritte so aptly demonstrated. See, the name "chicken" is just an abstract, and a picture of a chicken is just an idea of a chicken."

Will wasn't sure what "abstract" was, although someone once shown him a book with pictures that were just blotches of colors, and told him they were abstract paintings. Some were kind of pretty, but a chicken was definitely nothing like one of those pictures. He was sure of that. He did like the idea of a chicken, but he liked an actual chicken even more.

Will didn't know about "the bard" or the other man Mr. Brown mentioned, but that didn't matter. Will was a good listener; he didn't interrupt or ask stupid questions. He managed that by not asking any questions at all. Will knew that Mr. Brown liked going on about things, and no more than occasional grunts were required from Will to keep up the appearance that Mr. Brown wasn't just talking to himself.

Will considered himself a practical man. He knew naught of "constructs", but he knew names mattered. Well, maybe not what they were, but how they were used. Take them for example: Nobody who knew him, called Mr. Brown anything else but Mr. Brown. Not to his face anyway. Even those who didn't know him, called Mr. Brown 'Sir'. Meanwhile, nobody ever called Will anything other than Will, and only those scared of him ever called him ‘Sir’. Even though they physically looked similar, there was never a question who was the boss, and who was just the muscle.

Will was woken up from his thoughts by silence. Mr. Brown stopped talking. The sun was finally gone, leaving nothing but a violent smear of color behind. Mr. Brown stretched his limbs and looked at Will.

“So, you fancy going over the road for a bit of looting and pillage?”

They stole across the dusty road like two shadows, unseen and unheard, under the fence and into the chicken coop.

Half an hour later Will sat down on his haunches and took in the sight of feathers, splotches of white, red, and brown. He squinted and cocked his head sideways.

“I think I understand what you meant by “abstract”, Mr. Brown.”