LABOR’S DAY SMILE

by Raji Singh (editor, Fiction House Publishing)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Happy Labor Day!  In honor of the laborers, we offer our thanks and a favorite post from the Fiction House Archives.

*      *     *

“…he died at age 52,” reports the network anchor, breaking the news of the death of….“A successful business person, he was known to proudly brag of working 16 hours a day, usually 6 to 7 days a week.  Doctors report he died of sudden…

“Associates say, ‘He worked himself to death’.  It’s reported his personal net worth exceeds one billion dollars.”

“Jack died doing what he loved most,” says his widow as her face comes on the screen briefly.  “Making money.”

***

“I believe she was smiling just a little, when she said that, don’t you, Raji?” Tenille says playfully, as she comes from the kitchen and turns off the TV.  “’He worked himself to death.’  They never say, ‘He took-it-easy’d himself to death,’ hmm Raji.”

I smile.  “I knew him.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Not well.  But enough to know he never took a break from the money chase.  He was always pestering me, trying to buy one of my businesses.  Just so he could turn around and sell it.  I overheard a conversation at a restaurant between him and his wife.  She kept telling him, ‘Slow down, Jack.’  He was on the phone through their entire meal.  He obviously didn’t hear her.”

Tenille sits beside me on the couch, brushes her fingers across my cheek, and kisses my mouth.  “I’m glad you’re not like that anymore, Raji.”

“Well, I was never quite like Jack. Still, you and the children changed me.”

My Sweet Ancestor, Shelva Fiction

Tenille’s  josh, “They never say, ‘He took-it-easy’d himself to death,” is something I agree with wholeheartedly.  It’s a sentiment I’m certain most, maybe all my ancestors here at the Fiction House practiced.

“Fortunately, it does not appear, mine sweet druzhyna husbant Raji, you will be featured in a news story like that anytime soon, eh?”  Tenille is mimicking, kindly, my Russian immigrant great grandmother, Shelva Fiction.  Tenille knew her very well.  (I wish I had known G – Gra’ma Shelva.  I didn’t, growing up so far away from her.)

 My Pet Calico (©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

Shelva’s Lighthearted Friend, Calico
(©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

Shelva was always involved, fully, with life every moment of her over 100 years.  Her thousands of stories, many of which we’ve been publishing at Fiction House, certainly prove it.

Tenille imitates in a loving way the odd little Muscovite sayings Shelva incorporated into her ‘Amerika talk’.

“I learn English; Russian steppes by steppes.  The consonants of North and South Amerika, they are an ocean away from the consonants of Asia and Europe.  That distance – it is good.  Because, then there is no worry about the Czar’s Cossack butchers disemvoweling you.”

This is what Shelva’s ‘husbant’, her sweet druzhyna, said when George Bernard Shaw published Pygmalion.  “My Fair Lady, Shelva.  It wasn’t long before she was speaking English as well as Professor Higgins, and writing like Shaw in never-ending journals.”

Shelva and Jack:  I wonder if they had anything at all in common.  Jack made money, and at age 52 that money made his widow smile, slightly.  Shelva at over double that age was still traveling, still helping raise children, still helping fellow Muscovites to freedom, still writing of past, present and yet to come experiences that thousands would come to read.  So many ‘stills’ for Shelva.  She was always smiling.

I don’t think, of all the times I saw Jack, I ever saw him smile.

©2013 Raji Singh

(Join me at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment.  Read more about Shelva and meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures.  You can read their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE, but that’s a different story.  It’s available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)

Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A BACK TO SCHOOL TALE: THE LEGEND OF THE SCARLET TOUNGED, BLUE MOUTH DEMONS

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

To our adult and teacher friends, we hope that this coming school year is a bright one for you and for our children.   As you face those young ones, many have fears they are afraid to express.  As you comfort them and transform them into excited learners, we thank you. To gift you with a smile, please accept this whimsical excerpt from The Seasons of My Giving Back.

*     *     *

School’s JUST starting for some and forever out for many. Here’s a school daze reminiscing that nearly scared the “be-jeezers” out of me, and made me truly experience how much more satisfying the giving back is than the taking.

*   *   *

From the sidewalk, you believe you hear terror in the voices of the Aru brothers.  When you peek through their bookshop door, propped to allow in the morning breeze, you think you see fright on their faces.

Moher often tells you, “Never eavesdrop, Raji.  It is impolite.”

You wish you had heeded her admonition.  Nightmares, sweat drenching sleepless nights, and a discombobulated first month of school result from what you overhear.  The street traffic is noisy.  So you make out just pieces of the conversation.

“…They may well overrun all Cincinnati, those, those…”

Ari Aru finishes his brother, Sari’s sentence.  “…Those scarlet tongued, blue mouths…”

Though it is still warm September, Ari and Sari’s next words freeze you, as if you’re a January snowman.

“…4th grade boys…”

“…turning them into…”

“…so hideous, so scary…”

You clench your school lunch sack and remind yourself, ‘You are a 4th grader, Raji.’

“Hi Raji,” Ari shouts, thawing me.

“Hello, Mr. Aru.”cover the seasons of my giving back

“Come in Raji.  The book your father ordered arrived.  We’ll wrap it up for you to give him.”

Even though you’ve known these bearded and ancient Lindian neighborhood Uncles as long as you can remember, suddenly it seems you don’t know them.  You hesitate entering their shop.  The always-there baggy, blue-black puffs beneath their eyes, seeming gentle smiles, suddenly appear sinister.

“Do not just stand there, Raji.”  Ari takes you by one shoulder.

Sari seizes the other.

These friendly bookish confines you’ve been in hundreds of times, becomes a trapping lair.

The brothers lead you to the counter.  The business has an out of place scent, burning saffron.  Strange chants, in a Lindian dialect you do not understand, emanate from tinny speakers in a back room.

Ari and Sari dress in white cotton dhoti shirts and multi-color silk pants.  They keep, oddly, to the old world Lindian ways.  They chew teeth reddening betel nut, yet worship Goddess Nardesha who forbade the addictive habit.  They speak perfect English, yet stock only Lindian language books and newspapers.  These things, that for you had been ‘just the way the brothers are’, now are ominous.

You begin believing – If you were a stranger passing through our neighborhood…those red teeth, and blue-black under-eyes…you’d keep right on going, lickety-split.

“What grade are you in this year, Raj?”

You stammer.  “Four…fourth.”

“Hmm!”  Ari looks to Sari and back to me.  “Well you be very careful, Raji.  Because boys your age…”

You don’t hear the rest of what he says, because you grab the package, and run out.  You’re just sure you hear Ari say to Sari, “I just hope our Raji doesn’t become one of those scarlet tongued, blue mouths.”

Don’t know what one is:  A zombie, giant lizard, horrific monster.  Don’t want to find out.

*   *   *

Throughout September, you avoid walking by the bookshop.  With time and distance, you start realizing your distrust of the Aru brothers is unwarranted.  What you should fear is the scarlet tongued, blue mouths of whom they speak.

You look twice into alleys you must cross.  You never know if a scarlet tongued, blue mouth may lie in wait, or what they may do to you.  You shutter your mind to the possibilities.

~ ~ You may very well enquire, Dear Reader.  “Why aren’t you asking an adult about the scarlet tongued, blue mouths?” ~ ~

It is because of another conversation you overhear.  Sari Aru is on a street corner talking to a parent of a classmate.  “So it got your son.  I am sorry to hear that.  But he will survive.  Embarrassment will be his only illness.  That is fortunate.”

Then Sari says.  “If only they’d stop talking about it, then they would all be safe from the scarlet tongued, blue mouths.”

That convinces you.  Your lips are sealed.

The next day you look close at the talked about boy.  There it is, hardly noticeable, a slight tinge of blue to his lips.  When he speaks, you see a slightly scarlet tongue.

You look at the mouths of other classmates.  You lean too close to a girl’s face.

“What are you doing, Creep?” Margaret cries and backs away.  “Are you spying on me?  Mom wants you to report if I wear makeup.  Doesn’t she?”  She quickly wipes off bluish lipstick. “I hate you Raji Singh!”

Margaret runs from the room.  You sink low in your seat as everyone looks at you – glaring, smiling, as if you two were a 4th grade ‘item’ and it was revealed at that moment.

Maybe confronting a scarlet tongued, blue mouth would have been easier than dealing with Marr-grr-ett.

*   *   *

That afternoon on the playground, ‘The Mystery’ solves itself.

Boys line up to climb the ladder to the slides.  Mop-haired Joshua, a sly trickster, secretively shares one of his gimmicks.  He takes a plastic pen from his pocket.  He says, “The Aru brothers carry these at their store.  If the pens go bad, they may look at you funny, but they’ll give you a new one.  When you’re almost out of ink, just suck on the air hole, like this.”

The boys watch curiously.  The ink rises slowly.  Something strange happens.  Maybe it is high readings in barometric pressure that day.  Maybe Joshua is showing off and applies too much suck effort?  The blue ink suddenly spurts from its tube – like red mercury from a thermometer in a Saturday morning cartoon.

Joshua spits, phhts, and phews as the ink coats his lips and seeps onto his tongue.  His mouth turns blue, and his tongue scarlet.  He runs wildly around the playground, spitting, phht-ing and phew-ing as he wipes crazily at his face.

*   *   *

The question you will always have for Ari and Sari, but will always be afraid to ask, “Did you know I was listening to you that September morning when I was in 4th grade?  And, was it for my own good?”

“It was a giving back to me, simple lesson in honesty, wasn’t it? Thank you Ari, Sari.”

©2015 Raji Singh

(Join me at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment.  Read more about Shelva and meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures.  You can read their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE, but that’s a different story.  It’s available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)

Posted in archeo-apologist, Children, Children's stories, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, Uncategorized, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CINCINNATI’S FIRST INDEPENDENCE DAY PARADE – A WHIMSICAL TALE

by Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

To those who join together in Life’s parade. Welcome to our annual 4th from  Tales of the Fiction House. Have a wonderful holiday!

Cincinatti, July 4, 1826

The Cincinnati wharf-shack sways in a light breeze. Close your eyes, you’ll think you’re drifting out to sea. But Carper’s are open and he glares at Laza Bones’ wanted poster and Laza Bones glares back. Carper asks Mariner as they eat upon tabletop Turt. “The sweet little baby Bontez really grew up to be that – ‘thing’?”

“Yessuh, he did.”

Laza Bones ‘grrrs,’ at Carper, pulls out ‘trusty blaubuster’ and shoots. ‘BAM! BAM!’ Flouted barrel smokes. Wharf-shack rattles. Carper ducks. Projectiles ‘ziinngg’ off Turt’s shell, ricochet with a ‘tiinngg’ off wall-leaning Harpoon, deflects straight at Ol Tom, who leaps, ‘MEE-OWW-OWW-OWW,’ straight up from Mariner’s shoulder.

Mariner just keeps chowin’ chowder and talin’ tales and explorin’ Turt’s tattoos.

Turt, he’s really only yawning.

Ol Tom, just napping.

“The whoppers we conjure up in our imaginin,’ eh Carper,” Mariner says. “They make for some right good tellin ‘bout to others. Bet yer imaginin’ a whale-of-a-tale now.”

Carper glances at the poster, board-stiff.

The gunfire is real. It’s outside. Old Cincinnati’s tower bells begin tolling midnight. People are whooping, shouting, running wildly about.

‘AHEM! AHEM!’ Thibidioux’s alive again and he’s prying into the worlds of others. Slyly he grins at Carper. ‘After hearin’ mah story, dontcha’ feels sorry fer me, boy?’

Carper thinks he sees the evil sneer of King Creole on Thibidioux’s face. ‘Not one bit, Laza Bones. Don’t know how you got how you did. Only knows you did. N, that’s that. I’ll jus be like the Mariner, and ignores yer hair-trigger ways.’ Carper refreezes him, and, with little boy impetuousness, glances out the wharf-shack’s porthole and becomes transfixed by the doins’.

“Nuf a my jaw-jackin, Laddie,” Mariner says. ‘Good, the boy’s seein’ more than what’s right in front of ‘ims.’ He scratches chin stubble. “This tiny ship’s not big enough to net in all your thoughts and dreams, hmm Carper.”

Carper gazes out the round, 19th century version of a television to the world. Turt joins, then Ol Tom awakens and with his Cyclops eye, he does too. “Well all right,” Mariner says, rising to pull a raggedy curtain as if pushing an off button. It barely closes and they continue peeking out. Mariner strokes Carper’s hair, pats the nape of Turt’s ropey neck, then tickles Ol Tom.

“All that hoopin’, hollerin’. It’s turned Independence Day, Carper. Country’s independence as well as yourens’. Probably the first one you’ll remember. What say we make it real tootin’ special. Takin’ a part in it. Not just watchin’. Yes-sir-ree! 1826 America. This great lands a’ enterin’ its second 50 years and two of its great makers are still ‘akicken: Tom Jeffers… and Johnny Adams.”

Mariner takes a wooden crate from his sea trunk. He tosses a glob of matches atop the conical and stick-like contents. “China-man gave me these when I docked Singapore. We’ll light up the Cincinnati sky right well to celebrate.” He picks up tiny American flags mounted on pencil-like sticks. “I got it Carper. What this stodgy ol city needs is a parade. We four ‘ll start it. The gaul-dondest’ a parades.”

That captures Carper, Tom, and Turt’s spirit. Carper observes the old salt. Aglow like crystal are his eyes, showing his excitement. It’s worth more than any gold.

“Blow the horns and git set. The si-reen, she’s abeckonin’. Time to hoist anchor.”

Turt trumpets. Ol Tom mews, and Carper claps hands as a seal he’d once seen in pictures.

“All aboard,” Mariner orders. Ol Tom leaps on his shoulder. Mariner lifts Carper to his other shoulder then climbs atop Turt. He leans the fireworks crate between his legs and the back of Turt’s head. Turt exits the shack and trumpets shrilly, excitedly down the pier then soon, onto a street. Ol Tom screeches as torturously as he would if he were perched on a fence wailing to virginal felines.

Carper sings made-up songs with words he’d heard Mariner say. “America, America, Tom Jeffers and Johnny Adams. America, America. Yessirree we’re still a tootin’ and akicken’. 50 years and for always.”

Crowds gather along wooden sidewalks. They cheer the motley paraders.

You see their faces. They glisten in the streetlamps’ glitter and look wondrous with joy. And they are looking at you. Smiling. You know, by a fresh, new, and keen instinct, that you are bringing them this joy. It makes you, the floundering Carper, happy.

Mariner lights fireworks then holds them above his head for launch. ‘POW!’ Earth is stinking sulfur smoke, but the sky explodes into a glittering bouquet of red, white, and blue.

You feel more and more of your sorrowful pain slipping, disappearing, into the colors. You hear a soft voice that comes from amongst them. ‘Bonnie boy – live forever with this joy you now feel.’ Embers from the wilting colors seem soft fingers, wiping your tears of joy.

More sky bouquets. Onlookers line up behind your fours’ parade. Hootin’, hollerin’, shootin’,and fireworkin’ continue on down the street. The crowd joins in your child’s simple ditty. “America, America, Tom Jeffers, Johnny Adams…”

You learn from this that if you speak, people will listen to you – enjoy what you have to say.

And, on this day, little does Carper realize – BORN, is a showman.

The parade, introducing boy to world, exhilarates Mariner. He has chosen so much joy in a life that began so ill fated, yet he considers this his happiest time. Boy seems to have made ancient, young again. Mariner’s hopin’ he can teach every of life’s lessons he’s learned, to him.

Ol Tom ignores the fal-de-ral. He’s had a lifetime of cheering crowds among the swabbies, every time he’s cleared a pack of rats from a ship. Warm milk, an albacore head, and a soft warm feline brought on deck at the next port are the rewards he’s craved.

Turt cranes his neck high like a ship’s mast. He’s the vessel, sailing his friends through an ocean of people. Today, much as for the Carper, this is the beginning of a new life for Turt. The joy he found in old friend Kunta, then in Mariner and Carper, is now suddenly emanating from all those surrounding them. Decades of hatred of two-legs melts away. He suddenly realizes – it seems so simple now – all he has to do is to just let the hatred go, loosen fin-claw and SWOOSH! Forever, his burden – banished.

He blares out his pride of being a trumpeting creature, louder than ever.

As he does, the crowd’s cheers for he and his mates, boom. “INDEPENDENCE FOR ALL.”

Turt makes his vow this day – to forever care for the Carper, and for those he cares.

Cincinnati’s first annual Fourth of July parade begins with these four – unlikelys. The country will remember the half-centennial – bitter sweetly. On this day, the country-makers Tom and Johnny will die within hours of one another. Cincy will remember it for the shelled ship, its stooped, ancient Mariner captaining it with his one-eyed first mate and the little singing boson.

When the city celebrates the centennial 50 years hence, every blauhard ‘tween ages of 15 and 60 will have stories to tell how they or relative rode along. In 100 years, giant floating balloons and wheeled floats will depict Turt, Carper, Mariner, and Ol Tom in the first parade. In 150, at the Bicentennial, Presidents, future Presidents, and also-rans will be seen buttonholing voters – claiming Tom, Johnny and the original 4 paraders all would have supported them.

Turt will be at each of these events – watching from the Ohio River, maybe a secluded park, or, quite conspicuous in the crowds’ midst – though quite invisible midst the hundreds of concrete or styrofoam Turt replicas. He always returns. He will be at the next you can bet.

With this first parade Carper’s reputation as fixture on the streets and piers of Cincinnati – it is set. No more is he a ‘bastaad son-of-a nickel-a-night whure’, but, friend to nearly all, with words for them that are listened-to, revered, because he’ll have gleaned wisdom at the pulpit of the Mariner.

“This parade, she’s far from over. So don’t be a leavin’ yet,” shouts Mariner.

You smile. So do all the parade watchers, who’ve become paraders.

©2012 Raji Singh  (Tales of the Fiction House)

(Join me at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment.  Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures.  You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE.  They are completely different stories.  My novels are available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)

©2021 Raji Singh

Posted in archeo-apologist, Children, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, Uncategorized, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A JUNETEENTH CELEBRATION, PART TWO: NORTH TO CINCINATTI AND FREEDOM

By Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

CONTINUED: The realistic ante-bellum Underground Railroad journey of Kunta Kinder to free slaves.

This week:  His surrealistic river rafting to freedom.

***

One may wonder: When Turt’s not rollin’ down a Kentucky hill, strollin’ a parade, helpin’-out a flounderin’ Carper and founderin’ James; or when he’s not out-’n-about gettin’ tattooed – just what, with his very long time on this earth, does he do? …to make just a small corner of his world, right…

COMES NOW A TALE OF ONE SUCH NIGHT

Turt tugs a-Hempis [a sentient rope]. One end is in Turt’s beak-snout, the other attaches to a wooden raft he pulls up the Ohio. Bobbing head is barely visible. ‘Less clench please,’ vibrates a-Hempis. Turt obliges. They’ve made this trip often since their Valhalla reunion.

Aboard is Kunta, dressed in dark colors– to be inconspicuous to trolling slave-catchers. Turt is a low-gear motor, freeing Kunta to check for sandbars with a 20-foot pole. Crowded beside Kunta is the family from the tobacco plantation. Mother cradles baby. Father grasps toddlers’ hands. Gaunt looks reflect the family’s turmoil, their hell-on-this-earth, of the past weeks:

Hell’s eternal hours –

‘Quick! Hide here’: Shivering in bogs to fool the overseer’s bloodhounds.

‘Hurry! Crawl here’: Crowding beneath stinking manure wagons.

‘Climb up; fast!’ Days spent hiding quietly in haylofts without food. Slightest stomach growl or barn-board ‘creak’ might be their giveaway.

‘Run! Run!’ At midnights they streak between safe houses, stopping only to sip crick water before reaching – ‘Praise on High’, Valhalla!

Kaneshawa tends their physical needs – hot baths in the safe room Kunta and Ezekiah doubled in size as they finished rebuilding the church and parsonage. She burns tattered, stinking apparel and alters second-hand ones donated by northern sympathizers. Rested, renewed, fed, the children play with little Kunta, Turt, and Sea Line.

Reverend Ezekiah – he tends adults’ spiritual needs: “HE came with you this far. HE shall beacon the rest of your way.” Adult Kunta enters through a hidden doorway and provides an earthly realm to their journey. “I – shall take you to Cincinnati. There, others will direct you.”

Before Cincinnati happens, their hazardous river journey must continue:

Luny Mum stays behind clouds so this raft part of their trek is inconspicuous. Kunta keeps rifle close. He knows the best routes to avoid slave-catchers; but, always, there is a risk of detection.

Turt’s amphibious senses tell him what Kunta cannot know:

Coming toward them in the darkness are three humans, in a float just smaller than the one Kunta captains. Turt sniffs: Same butcher-ous scent of the pirates; same acrid odor of the powder that makes their killing weapons explode.

There is no avoiding collision; so Turt quickly devises diversion. He releases air from shell pockets with a slow, reflexive, pumping action and takes in water. Still clenching a-Hempis, he submerges, dropping to the Ohio’s mucky floor. He anchors fin-claws into mire, uprooting a couple of giant sleeping catfish – nearly his size. ‘Sorry gents.’

a-Hempis tenses as Turt’s anchorage jolts raft to a stop.

Kunta uses the pole to block the passengers from tumbling into the water. ‘Something’s wrong.’ He grabs rifle, whispers, “Hold the children.” Parents pull them closer.

Suddenly: ‘THUD!’ A dinghy collides with them. Luny Mum peaks curiously above clouds. Kunta notes three gun-wielding men – a threadbare trio. They’re stooges for plantation owners. Kunta always has plans for encounters, but is caught-off-guard by the chance collision. Move, even slightly, he knows he’ll be shot. He positions his rifle inconspicuously along his leg and hopes the darkness keeps them from seeing it.

“Looks we hit a jackpot,” comes a drumble from one slave-catcher-stooge.

You wait for the moment your amphibious senses tell you the enemy float is right above you. You purge water from your shell pockets, hunker down, prepare to launch upward and ram the interlopers. ‘NOW!’ You push at riverbed: No go. Fin-claws lock into the mire. ‘Damn the mud!’ Looking like a two-leg doing push- ups – you pump, cannot dislodge. You’d finally found your old friend, Kunta. Might lose him just as fast.

Now, catfish: They’re dumb, but persistent. After being scooted from their place, they stay close, flopping behind seaweed. They emerge and with winks and nods agree they’ll help if you return their ‘spot’.

Mud swirls as they burrow beneath you. Fin-claws dislodge. You rocket. You twist; turn, unable to keep balance. It’s a bullet-straight ride. Heart pounds. You tuck-in neck and beak-snout, but let legs dangle because they act as quad-rudders, helping control direction. Your nerves tingle. You feel water pressure might ratchet-away your top shell and you’ll have to spend life water-bound. That notion vanishes when you strike something.

A brittle, splintering sound: Turt has slammed the dinghy’s hull. It ‘whooshes’ above water. The slave-catchers fly, erratically firing rifles. Bullets ‘puck’ into the Ohio. “Blasted Go…Da…Son-of-a …” Vulgar shouts are barely coherent as they get dunked. Water splashes raft, soaking Kunta and the family. The Boys, “WHEE”, in delight.

The men grasp their knives and swim toward the raft. Luny Mum comes from behind clouds. Seeing one of the men in her moonlight, Kunta points his rifle at him while the father, sons seizing his legs, grabs the pole and pokes at another to keep him away. “We’ll take you. Mark my word,” yells the one Kunta guards. The other slowly raises his knife above the water. Just as he readies to throw, Luny Mum glints against it so the father sees. He slaps it away.

“Ow, Goddamit,” the man squeals.

The third one had swum underwater, to behind the raft. Unseen, he boards. The baby, startled by his movement, whimpers. Turt hears. His protection instincts activate. He skims through the water. As the man readies to begin slashing their backs, Turt cranes neck and grabs his ankle, snapping it easily as a twig. He drags him, kicking, screaming, son-a-bitching – “some-un get the Goddam ‘ting off me.”

He’s on Turt’s surf now. Turt pulls him away, looses, and then lets a current do its work. It sweeps him downstream. Turt disposes the others similarly, seeming to wave mock ‘so-long chumps’ with fin-claw.

Boys cheer wildly. Mother shushes them. Her face mirrors a contentment she’s never before felt. She looks onward, believing she can almost reach-out, touch the freedom her children soon will know. They pass around a canteen. Kunta takes one of the boys on his shoulder and the father does the same for the brother.

“Look straight on, son.” Kunta points. “Soon you’ll see Cincinnati’s lights.” Kunta knows what their mother is thinking. He has seen it in so many others he’s transported. He whispers to her, “Soon you’ll touch freedom’s beacon.”

The boys grin when they first see the city’s glitter. Despite what they’ve experienced, they yet possess smiles of innocence, something long lost to parents.

You tighten beak-snout to a-Hempis. You pull, and the journey continues. How many more will you make? Which might be your last? You put those scary thoughts in your shell’s furthest recesses. You replace them with the good thoughts: Soon you’ll see Carper, Ol Tom, and Mariner. You can’t wait for the look on Mariner and Kunta’s faces when they see each other again.

* * *

The next day

THE MAKING OF THE LEGEND OF WHAT HAPPENED DOWN-RIVER

Poppy Sol watches as dockworkers seine two of the stooges to safety. Poppy listens, amused, to one of their accounting the fate of the third.

“All’ve sudden a Goliath catfish nabs Moe by the ‘u-don’t-wanna-knows. Bites herself off his prizest possession ‘afore she pull him under – fer what porpoise? He didn’t have the part left that coulda ‘satisfied her.”

‘That’s what the blimen’ blow-hard tales to those that save ‘ims,’ Poppy Sol tells Luny Mum.

Mum remembers seeing it all, and grins. ‘Twas but a mere submerged limb did the pulling on ‘ims.’

‘Must of drove the other stooge batty, Mum, watching his slave-catcher mate drown. Funny thing, as I blink from high-sky I see, those that done the savin’, they’re not buying the blowhard’s sale. Instead, they’re takin’ a shine to batty’s true blitherens’ – about how a giant shelled creature be passengerin’ humans. Maybe the ye ol blow-hard’s big fish made it sound possible?’ Poppy imitates blitherer. ‘The…the shelled one’s tail be hundred foot if it be an inch.’

Mum shimmers. ‘Twas a taut, extended a-Hempis what seemed a hundred foot tail. Harmless as can be.’

As the smuggling of humans to freedom continues in coming decades, the legend of the abolitionist-creature grows; making future slave-catchers wary of the beast; and pre-occupied, with what might appear from nowhere to attack them. Because of it, many-a-runaway gets away.

(You can read more of the legend of Kunta Kinder, his Underground Railroad ‘Conducting,’ and of the Abolitionist Movement in the novel, Tales of the Fiction House, by Raji Singh.

Join me at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment.  Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures.  You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE.   My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2013 Raji Singh

©2014 Raji Singh (New material)

Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, Short stories, Uncategorized, whimsy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A JUNETEENTH CELEBRATION, PART I

by Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

 Happy Juneteenth! We celebrate the day we finally proclaimed the freedom inherent to all souls.  Our thanks to Ms. Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” who championed this national holiday.

*****

In commemoration, we recall our hero, Kunta Kinder who refused to bend to the whip or unjust laws.  Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow.

*****

Esteemed resident of the historic Fiction House, Kunta Kinder, is world renowned for his artwork – painting, carving, sculpture.  His dangerous pre-Civil War work as an African-American Abolitionist ‘Conductor’ in the slave states demonstrates his acting prowess.  Here now, as recounted in the novel, Tales of the Fiction House, one of thespian Kunta’s greatest roles.

*     *     *

THE TALE OF ONE EARLY UNDERGROUND RAILROAD SPUR LINE

(Editor’s Note: Slaves often traveled alone to do ‘marster’s bidding.’)

Bay is harnessed to a buckboard.  She is ‘slow-as-Moses.’ Reined by Kunta’s rope, a-Hempis, she moseys the dirt road toward a western Kentucky plantation.

‘Aleka will be there,’ Kunta thinks, with each new plantation he approaches. ‘She’ll recognize me, but say nothing.’  (Aleka is Kunta’s sister.)

Poppy Sol’s yawning rise sparks, pinkish-red, against hundreds of acres of tobacco plants, then smolders the dew from the leaves. Kunta breathes deeply, holding in his lungs the stinging, sweet wonder of nature’s humidor.

He feels so free in his voluntary servitude. Duty-bound to brothers and sisters in real chains, his soul soars.

Before now – delivering runaways to safe houses north of the Ohio for the old Reverend – he rode Bay straight and proud.

Now, gathering slaves for the new Reverend in the south, he slouches on splintery seat, subservient.

Looking at the white-pillared mansion in the horizon, he pretends not to see the rifle-wielding, Overseer, approaching on foot. Kunta’s an actor playing a part. He begins singing in a contrived, almost-yelping Halleluiah timbre!

“Pharoah’s daughter on de bank, little Moses in de reeds. She fishes him out wid a…”

“Whoa boy! Where you think yer headin’?” Overseer grabs a-Hempis at the Bay’s snout and loops the rope around his fist. He aims the gun at Kunta’s pretend-flinch face. Kunta knows Overseer’s thinking, ‘No killin’ ‘nother man’s property lest there’s might good reason.’ The six-foot tall white man is clean-shaven, pristinely kempt. Creased pants and pressed vest contrast Kunta’s ‘slave costuming – threadbare jacket, tattered chapeau, patched pants and boots.

(The Constant and mortal danger of riding the rails of the Underground Railroad engrain in Kunta a perpetual sense of courage-caution.)

On Kunta’s lap is a bible. Into its leather cover, he’s scroll-worked ‘Moses-aleadin’-’is-people’. The image of his village women’s braids snake through it and point to a northerly ‘promised lan’-a-milk-n’-honey’. He inscribes it into all of Reverend Ezekiah’s bibles that he delivers to slaves. Quickly glanced, it is a picture, pleasing. Examined, it is a guidepost to freedom.

(At this point in the latter half of the 1820s, few, if any whites knew of the secret codes and cryptic maps woven in quilts, painted on barns, carved into trees, that runaways and their abettors utilized to successfully navigate to a free state, territory, or Canada.)

“You ‘def, boy. I wanta’ know where yer headin’?”

“Ah is Reverend Ezeki’ Bellows shepherd-boy. I’s on his mission,” Kunta says with absurd argot and pretend-cower. He sees his ‘fools’ crescent smile in Overseer’s spit-shine boots.

(“Boots for kicken’ a relcalictrant neg’ or negress who don’t pick their share,” the overseer loves telling newly-bought arrivals.)

Kunta raises a bible and thumps it with his knuckles. “Ah’s deliverin’ the good word for the good Reverend, suh. For the Reverend’s dark flock.” He motions, eyes diverted, to an open-lidded crate of bibles behind his seat. If he came across Aleka, or maybe a runaway, he could slip them into the crate’s false bottom and smuggle them to Valhalla.

Kunta clenches jaw, concealing momentary grit of the degradation he again feels – of enslavement to the cook aboard the slave ship. He hates the overseer he knows nothing of yet knows everything of, hates him as much as he hated the Cook.

“Hey, boy. It’d save me a heap a hasslin’ before breakfast if I just blow yer brains out now.”

a-Hempis doesn’t want to test the overseer’s brag – (The mystical rope, a-Hempis, is a reincarnation of a 15th century mystic cleric, Thomas a-Kempis) – what a-Hempis does now will give Kunta a chance to defend himself if Overseer is intent on firing. He tightens around Overseer’s hand as Bay tenses snout. “Ow! Son-of-a-bitch.” Overseer pulls away, lowers gun and shakes reddening fingers.

Bay becomes jittery. She kicks-up dust. ‘Can’t let anything happen to Kunta. He must be there when I foal to see my pony galloping beside me for the first time. Must see my pony when little Kunta makes him or her, his horse.’

(Bay and a-Hempis have varying plans for different scenarios. If Kunta’s ever set for-a-whippen’, a-Hempis would convince the leathery bullwhip to soften its slashing – by promising some of a-Hempis sought-after scent. If Kunta’s hung by his own rope, and, on his own horse, a-Hempis would slip from tree limb, then Bay would gallop through memorized bramble pathways she has traveled through that no hound, man, nor other equines, could figure out and follow. Each situation so different – they would observe Kunta’s lead; follow it.)

“Ahm sure mistress-’a-house wouldn’t want the spreading of our Savior’s savin’-Word be slowed.” Kunta allows a mere tinge of slyness to stain his words. No matter how little the man thinks of him, he won’t want black blood splattered all over mistresses ‘Word.’

Overseer rubs hand. “Gimme your papers.” He examines documents that include intricately scrolled documents Kunta has created to show that body, if not soul, belongs, without-question, to Reverend Ezekiah Bellows. Kunta has, well hidden, equally-meticulously forged documents signed by Reverend, that show he and Little Kunta are free humans.

Overseer drops the papers onto Kunta’s lap and opens crate. “Pretty fancy bible covers for folks born for picken’. None of ‘em read – least better not be able, or I’ll see to it they never do again.”

“Well suh, when Mistress not a readin’ to ‘em, to help calm ‘em for you…they can meditate on the cover – calms ‘em even more for you when they’re in the field…”

“I got whippings to do that, boy.” He pats the bullwhip that rings around his belt.

“Got lots a’ deliveries for the Reverend today, suh!”

“Sounds like whip-lip you’re deliverin’.” He quickly decides against any action because his hand aches. He looks at his pocket watch, gift from his Kentuck pappy; ‘overseer ‘afore me – and his, ‘afore him – taught me all ‘ah needa’ to know about treatin’ negs’.’ “They’re due to crops. Swing a wide berth from the house, head straight to the quarters and don’t snail about.”

Outside the shanties, shadowed gray by the white mansion, your heart, ready to burst free from your chest to fly to be with Aleka, coldly sinks. Nowhere is she among the dozens of ragged spirits, who are blank-eyed from the day-by-day tobacco sameness. None read, but all smooth their hands over your cover design.

‘Follow its path,’ you want to shout to them. ‘You will discover routes to escape your Egypt – you’ll find sympathetic Moses’ ready to help.’ You begin to preach-hint, as you stand amongst your people. “Close your eyes and meditate on the, PATH. You’ll be delivered to the Promised Land.”

You become a mandatory silent when you see the plantation owner in his creamy suit and string tie, approach followed by Overseer and the field guards. “Let me see that,” Owner says.

You shan’t look into his face to decipher what he’s thinking when he examines the cover. You realize he’s interested only in leafing through the pages for contraband. Overseer and guards do the same with other bibles. Overseer drops the book at your feet.

“Yes siree,” Owner says to the air as if you don’t exist, “delivered to a promised land, of tobaccy. All right everybody. To the fields.”

For emphasis, only a few feet from a dozen men and women, he cracks his whip. It ‘snaps’, stinging the ground.

Overseer: “Your heard your Massah. To …”

‘Does anyone here see hope?’ you want to shout as they shuffle away. You pick up the bible. As you think, ‘they are too beaten to see,’ a burly-chest man and petite wife, with two clingy sons under age 4 and a baby, stop briefly. The only difference between him and the others: His eyes are afire – with desire to find the Path. When no one is looking, he puts his hand to your shoulder. No words. But his expression says, “Thanks brother. Somehow, we will see you, and soon.”

‘Yes! There’s always hope. Aleka! Your brother’s coming for you: Have hope.”

(Join me  at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment.  Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures.  You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE.   My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2013 Raji Singh

©2022 Raji Singh (New material)

Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FATHER’S DAY SCENTS AND SENSIBILITIES

by Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Whether your fathers are near, far, past, or present, they live forever in our hearts. Here is a favorite from our Fiction House family’s archives. Happy Father’s Day!

  *    *    *

PART I – FATHERS’ SENSIBILITIES

I am James Thaddeus Fiction, the Fifth – a true Fiction. Typhoon tears me from my parents and my realities strip away. I enter another world, one of imagining, surviving. Eventually new, loving parents, Dr. Ben and Indira Singh, take me in. Now I am Raji.

But, before then…

*     *     *

The ironies of my foundling fate blessed me with three additional males to consider Fathers.

I wish on no other person the brutality – the disregard and abuse – that most in my situation must become part. I desire for all, the kindness and trinity of paternal love my other Fathers offer.

One of them, I conjured in my imagination, to ferry me through my lonely times. Who could be a more sensible guide? He too had been a foundling.

The second is real, but not human: He – an offshoot species akin to a giant land-sea turtle, a multi-centarian – is named Turt. Charles Darwin writes of him in Fiction House Publishing’s The Beagle Has Landed, ‘He is no turtle, yet they call him TURT. page 21, Chapter 19, Verse 23.

Turt was my salvation. He ferried me to shore atop his shell, and then through the dangers in the deep Lindian Woods – animals of prey, humans of prey – before delivering me to the Father who would raise me. So I might survive the journey, Turt demonstrated the sensibilities of foraging: How to sneak up on fish as only his kind could, and then how to bake them on sun burned hot stones.

My third Father, you might be hard-pressed to guess if he is human or animal if you met him in the Woods, which Turt and I did. He dressed part tiger – part man, his actor’s persona. His name is Balu Baiku. A travelling troubadour, he lived and breathed the ancient art of the Tigerman, melding cat-sly movements with human dance. His gift is that of creating a meditative calmness in his audience, peaceful as any Gregorian chant.

This sensibiliity – that he demonstrates to Turt and me to this day – taught me how to soar above my ill fate, and reach the crescendos of joy and love we all desire.

The sensibilities of my Fathers, of most all our Fathers: Where would we be without them?

PART II – SCENTS OF THE FATHERS

The first Father I described, his name James Thaddeus ‘Blackjack’ Fiction, he was my great great grandfather. I met him only in my imagination. Names, we no longer share, but his position I inherit, editor of Fiction House.

Late at night in the office, he yet comes to me, as when I was a Woodland foundling. I know it is he when the warm hand rests comfortingly on my shoulder and I smell the smooth brandy and rich cigar mix of his breath. No mistaking that scent, it still permeates the walls and trimwork of Fiction House though he ascended from his worldly realm many decades ago.

I imagine I hear Blackjack’s Editor-Godlike edict, his words peppered with the ‘Come on. Take a chance’, sensibilities of publishers, from the dawn of Stone-Age tablets, up to tablet e-books of today. He proclaims. “For every six queries you reject, My Son, you must accept one.”

Then he’ll josh, because Blackjack is no humorless Editor-God.

“There might just be a whale-of-a-tale in those endless seas of words. Never forget, I let Melville slip through my nets when I should have harpooned Moby and just reeled him in.”

The Fiction House roots stem from the burgundy incense of the tobacco leaf of which Blackjack became so fond. As a boy in the 1820’s and early 30’s he made a steady income as a reader in cigar rolling factories – cavernous, giant humidors along the piers of old Cincinnati. High on a stool above the tables he sat Lord-like, relaying the great literature of the day to hundreds of anxious listeners. Six cents of a worker’s daily incomes was tithed to Blackjack. Morale, production, most important, a desire to be literate skyrocketed among workers and their families.

Born, is just one of many future markets for Fiction House Publishing’s books.

I imagine – a sixth sense, if you will – that I have much in common with Father #1, my g-granfa Blackjack. One of them however, never will be smoking. I’ve no desire to have smoldering embers near my face, nor whatever impurities they may contain, to penetrate my body.

That same desire cannot be said for Fathers Two and Three. (To each his own…)

Turt, more than once I can remember him pulling some unknown-to-me thin-leafed plant to a campfire, and imbibing of that acrid wafting smoke he draws deeply into his strongbox lungs, his deep-shelled air pockets. A bleary of eye look always follows, and then comes the munching upon whatever slithery thing he can find that crawls nearby.

I suppose there are no laws in Lindia or any of the 50 United States governing what Turt’s species may smoke or devour.

Father Three, Tigerman, a sensible man, takes a sensible approach to the scents he inhales. An ancient ‘smoke’ from Lindia, the ‘Krekal’, is his choice. Made of sage and rolled in light paper, its addictive properties lie only in the pleasantly savannah-arid aroma it produces, and the calming ‘krekal, krekal’ sounds the smoldering leaves makes. It is like the clatter of a roller coaster continuously striking its track. Only, it is nearly silent.

When Tenille, our children, and I go to a carnival, I cannot help thinking of Father Three. Listen! In those briefest of moments that there is quietude along the midway, and there always is, I hear ‘krekal, krekal’. I breathe deep. Midst the sweet wafting of kettle corn and cotton candy, I detect the sharp piquancy of krekal. I peek like an ever-curious youngster, into all the show tents. I am just sure I’ll find my Tigerman performing. I cannot wait to see him again.

*     *     *

These other Three Fathers of mine: The scents and sensibilities they evoke meld as one – INTO LOVE.

I close my eyes. I sense their presence even when they are not there. Because of them, I am never a lonely foundling.

Thank you, Three Fathers. And, of course, Father Ben, and my late father too.

(Read more of my Fathers in the novel, Tales of Fiction House. Join me at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE. My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2014 Raji Singh

Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, Uncategorized, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PETS ON MEMORIAL DAY

By Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

When Life throws curve balls, our pets stay beside us.  All it takes is some tasty food, warm beds, (or cool tanks), and loving attention, and they return comfort when we need it most. To honor them, here is a favorite from the Fiction House Files.

*     *     *

In honor of National Pet Month, our Memorial Day Tribute to our other family members…

I am James Thaddeus Fiction, the Fifth – a true Fiction. Typhoon tears me from my mother and father on board a sinking ferry near the Lindian coast. I alone survive. I become an orphan foundling, taken in by new loving parents Dr. Ben and Indira Singh. Now I am Raji. These are my found and foundling tales.

*        *        *

Being a foundling on Memorial Day is difficult. You want to memorialize past generations. How can you, if you don’t know your relatives? Pet lovers, like me, we can remember a Fido or Puss passed on.

But what if your beloved is a parrot? My Captain Polly may live well over 200 years.

Or your beloved pet is a Trumpeter? Turt is my Trumpeter’s name. He is a rare form of giant land-sea turtle that may live just as long.

“They may very well outlive you, Raji,” my wife reminds me.

Maybe they will parade by my headstone to honor me one last time.

I can just see it – Captain Polly rides on Turt’s huge shell. I smell the sweetly pungent sardine – my favorite food – Turt, in my honor tosses from his beak-snout onto the sod that sits six feet above my head.

I smell the warm, dry brimming-with-seed sunflower – my favorite snack – that Captain Polly drops from her talons alongside Turt’s offering. Then Captain Polly warbles a rhapsodic melody and Turt trumpets a coronet-like accompaniment.

Such is the life of a foundling for Memorial Day: Just imagination, dreams.

I love my pets. I know they love me.

 My Pet Calico (©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

My Pet Calico
(©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

(Read more of Turt, Captain Polly, and Calico in the novel, Tales of Fiction House. Join me at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE. My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2014 Raji Singh (2021 new material)

Posted in archeo-apologist, Children, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, Uncategorized, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MOTHER’S DAY MAGIC

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

by Raji Singh

In honor of mothers, we offer this tale from the archives of The Fiction House…

I am James Thaddeus Fiction, the Fifth – a true Fiction. Typhoon tears me from my mother and father on board a sinking ferry near the Lindian coast. A thousand minus one perish. I alone survive. I become an orphan foundling, taken in by new loving parents Dr. Ben and Indira Singh. Now I am Raji. These are my found and foundling tales.
*      *      *
MY THREE MOTHERS

She was well over 100 when I was still a little boy.
I am not even sure I met her, though I am told I did.
Yet my memories of her, my Russian immigrant great grandmother Shelva Fiction, they are vivid as the two mothers who raised me. My memories of Shelva come from letters and stories ‘Mother’ Shelva composes throughout her lifetime:

She tucks the writings away in obscure hiding places in the Fiction House.

Who can say why?

Securely they wait, until I discover them.

The find, purely by accident?

“No,” Tenille tells me, as we sit in front of the fireplace on a still brisk May evening – Mother’s Day. “Fate led you to them, Raji. In spirit, she was watching over you, leading you to them.”

Here now is how Shelva accomplished this mystical feat – on a magical Mother’s Day, of the previous year.

Shelva Fiction: One of my Three Mothers

* * *

It’s late. Luny Mum is full. Dark clouds drifting by occasionally obscure her orb. Scarlet-hued rays streamed ominously from Poppy Sol before he retired for the evening. Tenille and our children are asleep upstairs. It is quiet. Other than a squeaky floorboard, or rattling water pipe, the grand rambling Fiction House is so peaceful this time of night. I am drawn to Shelva’s portrait gracing an alcove. I cannot say why, maybe I’m under a spell or in a trance.

Shelva’s a smooth-cheeked brunette, her neck thin and willowy. She’s stately as any Czarina. The flash of her blue eyes radiates against her glowing olive skin. Ageless, I cannot tell if she’s 25 or 45 when she posed Breathing, deeply, I think I smell borscht and caviar, her favorite repasts: Maybe she and the artist noshed midst the sitting, and now a tangy beet-earth scent and a wisp of the sea life permanently saturate the canvas.

I crank her old oak Victrola, and turn the volume low so I won’t wake anyone. The only ones aroused are the spirits of old Russia as the soft strains of balalaika music sift around me. Suddenly and for no reason the music spikes.

The noise – like a thousand Cossacks crowding me, doing a foot-clapping kazatsky dance.

Fortunately, the doors upstairs are closed. No one stirs.
Shelva’s portrait tilted slightly from the vibration.     The tilting, along with Luny Mum’s obscuring shadows make it look like Shelva’s mouth moves. It must be my imagination, but I hear her say, “I’ve been waiting for you for a long time Raji. Catch me as I make the leap into your world.”

Her portrait begins to teeter-totter, as if somehow it is unbalanced. Then I hear a fanning-shuffling, like a deck of cards. She falls toward me. As I hold her upright, hundreds of envelopes spew from around the back of the frame. They cover the floor.

The very first one I open is a word map, giving directions to her hiding places. Squirreled into nooks, crammed into crannies, filed behind false-paneled walls, I find more envelopes, containing what I’d describe as “word-hoards”.

Furiously, curiously, deliriously I read her tales of the Fiction House. They give me clues – as to who I am, and the history of forebears I never knew; and knowledge of all the residents, saints to sinners, whose lives helped mold me –

The Fiction House residents: Blackjack Fiction, Laza Bones Thibidioux, The Mariner, Kunta Kiinder, Efraim Ephraim, Captain Polly, Turt, Cecily Cobra, Luny Mum, Poppy Sol and all the others I’ve never met.

I sit on the floor and weep, in joy. For the first time since the ferry accident, I truly feel I am James Thaddeus Fiction – the Fifth, besides being Raji Singh.

I feel re-born –

As James.

Thank you great gra’ma, Shelva. Happy Mother’s Day.

Calico (©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

Calico
(©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

To me, an orphan foundling who knew little of his past, or the people he came from, it is Happy Birth Day.

(Join me every Sunday night at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE. Learn more about Shelva in Shelva Fiction, available at Amazon.)

©2013 Raji Singh

©2014 Raji Singh

Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, Short stories, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MAY DAY ON THE BAYOU IN POEM AND STORY

By Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul“Tis 1800, there ‘bouts, early morn.

Fly with us into the joy of May and new beginnings!

     ***     ***     ***

From the Archives of the Fiction House.  Happy May Day!

“Today Thibidioux chil’ to be born.

Butterflies come and tell me so.

‘Come Mama Lucy – time to go.’”

110 year-old healer and midwife Mama Lucy chants these words as she walks sprightly along the bayou road leading to the Thibidioux cabin. Amulet necklaces of critter teeth and bones click together in time to her pace.

“13’s be wild

Bad tidins’ for comin’ child

Ups to me to potion free

The innocent born to be”

She cups hands behind her back and catches a floating 13-pointed leaf. For luck, she extends ritual by popping it in her mouth, swallowing.

“Should be gay – this First of May

But twelve plus one crayfish

Black pussy, at my door, lay.”

Mama Lucy’s words that come, seldom, yet sublime, often arrive in singsong rhyme. ‘Dems of the bayou forgive her this crime. They know the tragedy that fraught this

“My only beget,

Son,

He,

Alligator ‘et’.”

Shoeless, her worm-thin toes wriggle in the dirt. Dress looks a gunnysack containing rattly-bony frame. Never tall, with age she’s shrunk to the length of a yard-and-a-third stick, almost as thin. She’s pliable, like willow; no dry twigs of arthritis. Easily she carries a 40-pound carpetbag of potions, lotions and cures weighing half herself. Ghost-white hair sprouts sparsely from atop once onion-round head that is now withered, avocado shape. You can’t tell if she’s white or black because time has blended her skin to a neutral gray. Blind, eyes shriveled pits; she views with eagle vision the world through her senses.

From seemingly nowhere lightening crisscrosses the azure sky, occasionally igniting burbling swamp gas. The explosions are like popping firecrackers. They frizz thick moss swaying from trees. Mama Lucy sniffs,

“Rotten egg smell.

‘Yea, do foretell

Fomentin.’

Bad day be born

Today’s chil’

Lifelong forlorn.”

She plans to dose the mother with a tonic of foamed mushroom and boiled spleck to delay birth ‘til past midnight, when a new day would bring fresh charms.

Mama Lucy feels the air, suddenly dank.

“Hundred yards yonder

13 gators, dey bask.

Dey no hinder

My carin’-for task.”

She doesn’t veer: BLIND PERSISTENCE; BLINDING STUBBORNESS!

Rouge dust stirs at Mama’s feet as she meanders to, then among the lounging reptiles: All are tan-tinted 8 to 12 footers – biggest in the swamps. [1]

  Senses tell Mama Lucy that today they scheme as they lounge. She feels their fear and apprehension as they nervously swing open their snouts. Teeth brush her knees. They cry out at her intrusion.

Their instincts – to stave off riling-up two-legs, thus, preventing wholesale gator slaughter – dictates their bayou code:

GATOR BRETHREN EAT A TWO-LEG. THEN THEIR RELATIVE BE UNTOUCHABLE. SO, NONE MAY HARM MAMA!

This, be their ancient bayou ‘way’.

Mama Lucy plucks gently into balmy air and catches mosquito. She holds it, as New Orleans gentry hold teacup between thumb and forefinger.

“Skeeter, take mah blood.”

She lets it sting, then, bayou-lightening fast, moves her hand and places it near the biggest gator’s battle-cratered snout – that of King Creole. King Creole instinctively scissors open, shuts jaw. He snarfs insect cleanly, not touching human finger.

“I trick you, mah shaz a mio.

My blood floods into you, King Creole

So now hast you strode

Over your own precious code”

Again, this cunning ancient human who knows him well has duped him – the KING!

She, who took him in as foundlin’ gator, hardly bigger ‘n a human finger. He were dehydrated, floppin’ down-side up, hunnerd yards from the bayou. Doctored ‘im day n’ night; wet-nursed scratchy, wee-toothed beast right alongside own boy ‘til ‘e could ‘et solids: Let ‘em both sleep together; raised ‘im into a fine young specimen, she did, then set im free in the swamps so ‘e could live ‘mongst own kind.

N’ ‘ow ‘e repays ‘er? By, years later returnin’ and ‘etten her grown son, his own crib, then sandbox, then pirogue, brother.

Creole snaps, bellows. Slimy reptile saliva spatters Mama’s face. She wipes it into a bottle she snakes from pocket.

‘I trick double.

My mojo’s workin

Gainst your lurkin’

No’ting a better fixer,

Den gatah-spit elixir.’

–Poppy Sol reflects philosophically down at the alligator conclave. ‘As humans do what they gotta; so to, gators do, but not necessarily what they oughtta.’–

Gators stare warily at their king. Grumbling growls. Some wonder. Should they doubt his ability to deal with the bayou two-legs.

King regains composure. He brings the conclave to order by thumping gavel tail. He needs their full support in their long-planned, REVOLUTION against humans that begins today. He raises tail, proudly, and then dangles it, disgusted. Embedded into it is a squirrel that failed to hustle past with a nut.

Mama Lucy: No longer does she despise Creole for ‘etten her only offspring right in front of her 3/4’s century past. She began rhymin’ – that’s how she stays sane. It took Mama nearly half-a-century,

“…ta be a realizin’

Life way-too shoat

To be a grievin’

A pirogue

Cain’t no longer float.”

She pats Creole’s snout. Though blind, she believes she can see her son’s eyes in Creole’s eyes. Imagined though that might be, it’s the only vestige of his life she’d ever have. Because of that, never would she harm Creole, she long-ago vowed. [2]

“I know you be a plannin’ somethun’, King Creole,” says Mama Lucy. “I be keepin’ eye on you wif’ my soul.” She slides a bottle from her carpetbag and sprinkles sparkly contents over gators. She chants,

“Grinded an’ pulverized leather hide

‘a gators long gone-away.

Let descendents see yer evil fate,

If today, on humans

You darest to prey.”

Gators sneeze, quiver, and shiver, at feeling the dust-touch of ancestors. Some run.

Huey Long, ruthless politico, demagogue in the making – King Creole’s top Lieutenant and held back only by King Creole – stops them with a growl that sends treed birds flying. ‘Do not let the old witch bad-omen us and stop our revolution. If you do, I will hunt you down. Your fate will be worse than that of becoming your ancestors’ powder.’

Gators of the conclave crouch. They fear staying but fear even more, going.

Mama Lucy re-commences trek toward the Thibidioux place – just up the way. Gators mill, always with two on lookout for Thibidioux cousins, uncles who might pass by with glistening explosion sticks deadlier than any razor fang.

[1]Perilous tannicus: Nicknamed ‘Gatemouth Browns’, because these muddy-complexioned perils have snouts that thrash wildly as gates in a gale. The swinging produces a twangy bluesy melody. Perilous tannicus live five times longer than most gator breeds, and some bayou folk claim it’s because their baby-cry-like songs relieve tension, subdue worries.

[2] ~~Editor’s note:  You, too, can see Mama Lucy’s son’s haunting eyes.~~

(Read more of Mama Lucy, King Creole, and the gators in the novel, Tales of Fiction House.  Join me at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment.  Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures.  You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE.   My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2013 Raji Singh

©2014 Raji Singh (New material)

Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Uncategorized, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EYES OF A LIFETIME: A BAYOU POEM

By Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

As we struggle across the world with our mortality, it is good to remember that we will always live on in the thoughts of those who love us.

*     *     *

FROM THE FICTION HOUSE FILES:

A Farewell to Lucius Abel.  That last day with him, his Mama relives every day.

*     *      *

All is dark. Just one thing she sees – her son’s eyes – perpetual eyes.  Mama sees them from his beginning to end.

“He has your eyes darlin’ Lucy. We’ll call him after you”, young husband, now, so-long deceased, tells her.

She holds newborn tight. “And after you Abel. We be so happy – dans notre paradis de jolie.”

Her man strokes her perspiring jet hair and she feels so proud –

A tiny fragile body has her life in him.

Then she sees Lucius Abel a boy; eyes gleaming excitement when he catches first catfish by hand…

…as groom, determined eyes set on beautiful bride and their new life…

…then as new fa, to a boy destined to be their only child – excited, nervous eyes…

…as his wife and teen-age son are pulled from him during the hurricane; cold,despairing eyes…

…as his eyes now go dim, as the gator pulls him under for the final time.

She sees the turquoise eyes again of the newborn she once so tightly held.

“Sleep tight mon chil’.”

(Read more of Mama, Lucius Abel, and the gators in the novel, Tales of Fiction House.  Join me at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment.  Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures.  You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE.   My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2013 Raji Singh

©2014, 2020 Raji Singh (New material)

Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, Uncategorized, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment