THE FROG BROTHERS SL-O-O-O-W DOWN

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 summer fades, let us welcome fall with as much curiosity as our Frog Brothers welcome Turt

 *     *     *

Lore of the Lindian Woods as related by Raji Singh  

On a recent evening, Tenille, our family, and I relaxed in the Fiction House garden. Captain Polly entertained us with her whimsical account of Turt’s first visit to the Lindian Woods.

(Turt’s a giant of a land-sea beast, species Trumpeter, akin to a Galapagos turtle. He’s tattooed with the images humans added to him as he traveled the world.)

Captain Polly perched on Turt’s beak-snout, big as an ostrich egg, tough as an anvil. Turt was cooling his shell in our fountain as he listened intently to the colorful macaw’s even more colorful tale. Turt cannot speak human words as Captain Polly can, so he couldn’t contradict the talkative bird’s version of what happened. He didn’t take a bite out of her plumage either, so I am supposing the story is accurate.

*     *     *

Once upon a time…

As the Frog Brothers Brer and Frer amble down the road to get to the Lindian Woods, they come upon a big, half-round brown rock. It wasn’t there the day before.

“Couldn’t have just fallen from the sky,” says Frer.

Brer ribbits agreement. “Too heavy to have dropped from a cart, Brother Frer.”

Frer sniffs it. Fishy. “I don’t recognize it from our pond. River’s too far away. So it couldn’t have washed in.”

Brer pushes at it with his willowy leg. We have a mystery, Brother Frer. “Is it real or am I just imagining it?”

“You are not imagining, Brother.”

Welcome to the Lindian Woods (Image ©2014 Raji Singh

Welcome to the Lindian Woods
(Image ©2014 Raji Singh

They hop atop its dome for a closer look. They study the dozens of carved, drawn, and painted pictures. The Frog Brothers’ eyes widen with excitement, as the magical glow of sunshine brings the images to life. They see armored ants doing battle with ferocious, sword wielding ladybugs. The weapons crash together, but make only tiny, tinny sounds.

There are people depictions. They keep ever busy with people chores.

So many pictures – Animals playing, birds flying.

A cricket rides a snail. He leaps, somersaults and shouts to Brer, “Race ya.”

“Yer on.” Brer hops. He goes so far that he almost gets to the Lindian Woods. He looks back. The cricket and snail have barely moved. Brer hops back. “I win.”

Cricket and Snail grin. “Whoa Frog. We win. You have to SL-O-O-O-W DOWN to win.”

Mad, Brer stomps. When he does this, he feels a rumble, as if he has caused an earthquake. Brer looks to Frer and questions. “Did the rock just move, Brother?”

Frer nods. “I do believe it did, Brother. Maybe we should take our leave before it might rocket away as fast as it arrived here?” As Frer says this, his spindly green foot brushes against a drawing of a dozing sloth, and bring her to life.

She advises, before returning to sleep. “SL-O-O-O-W DOWN Frog.”

Brer laps his long tongue into a pictured pan of fricasseed flies and gulps them. He suddenly starts vibrating like a rattlesnake’s rattle. Even his eyes shake. When he sticks his tongue back out so he can catch his breath the flies are slithering all over it. They didn’t disappear into his belly, as they ought. In chorus they buzz, “SL-O-O-O-W DOWN. If you must et us, as Frogs are ought, do it slow or in your throat we’ll be caught.” They fly – to freeze back into their picture pan, once a’gan.

Suddenly there is a feline scream.

“Me-o-o-o-w! Pick on someone your own size.” A painting of a scowling cat challenges the Frogs. Puss stands on hind legs. Actually, he is their size only if Brer were to stand on Frer’s shoulders. The feline wears boxing shorts. His paws are fisted. “I’m Puss ‘N Gloves. Champion of the world,” he screeches. “Put’em up I say. I’ll sl-o-o-o-w you two hoppers down a notch.”

The riled up Brothers hop and duke. Their blows touch only – AIR.

Puss ‘N Gloves is so swift not one punch lands.

Frer and Brer huff and puff until they are so tired they barely move. “We’ve met our match, Frer,” says Brer. Brer nods. SL-O-O-O-WLY they crouched into frog squats.

“Let that be a lesson,” Puss ‘N Gloves meows. He leaps, clicks his boot heels, and stretches his paws skyward. “Victory belongs to me.”

“You are right,” Brer and Frer croak sl-o-o-o-wly, as sl-o-o-o-wly to sleep they drift.

Theirs would have been a contented and happy sleep – but

Suddenly water splashes them. The moving pictures go still. All, but one, and Frer and Brer wish they’d never seen it. It is the carving of a monster living in a scummy bayou pond. Its flopping-about splashed the water. One side of its body is gator – all rough, scaly. The other is human – with long, flowing hair, smooth skin, as handsome a human ever there was.

He ambles toward the Brothers. “You Frogs shouldn’t be a listening to the do gooden’,

SL-O-O-O-W DOWNERS. Now you sl-o-o-o-wed down enough for us Fasters to et ya.” He clamps his scratchy gator claws on their heads, opens his mouth, and then stuffs in Frer and Brer.

It is so dark the Brothers have to feel around to be sure the other is still there. Frer remembers what the Flies did to him. “Hold tight to the tongue, Brer,” he shouts. They do. Just in time.

The monster swallows. He coughs. He chokes. He cannot get the Brothers to slide down his throat.

The monster slyly smiles. The Brothers look out into the bright world from behind the prison bar teeth. “You boys SL-O-O-O-WED me down.” But I’ve got all the time in the world. I’ll just wait you out.” He lies down and basks his gator side in the sun.

Frer and Brer tremble. “What shall become of us?”

They hear “psst, psst,” from the Puss. Puss ‘N Gloves quietly creeps beside the monster’s snout and whispers to the Frogs. “Do what I say and you’ll get free. Miss a punch and you’ll be down his gullet for the count.”

Brer and Frer stare at each other. Their eyes ask, “Can we trust him?”

Puss ‘N Gloves punches at the rock’s top. The rock begins moving, shaking, and then quaking violently. “I’ve awakened it,” Puss excitedly purrs.

“How can you wake up a rock?” the confused Frogs ask one another.

Startled, by the rock almost roll motion, the monster inadvertently opens its mouth and says “Huh.”

“Jump,” Puss ‘N Gloves shouts to Frer and Brer.

Brer says to Frer. “Cat and creature might be in cahoots. ‘We let loose the tongue for even a moment, down the throat we may go.”

“Jump, fools,” meows the Puss. “Know the time to be SL-O-O-O-W and the time to act fast.”

They jump. Mid leap, they find themselves heading right at a giant beak-snout that wasn’t there a moment ago. “Tricked,” they croak to one another as they close their eyes and ready themselves for the worst. “Why did we ever climb this rock?”

They hear a loud trumpeting sound that seems to say, “What makes you think I am a rock?”

They open their eyes and see that the question is coming from the beak-snout. It is at least four times their size. They go flying right into it. They see the cable sturdy neck it is attached to, but they cannot see that it comes from within the rock.

“Well its down one hatch or the other today for us,” Frer consoles his brother as they lock arms and prepare for doom.

TO BE CONTINUED

NEXT WEEK: THE FROG BROTHERS MEET THE STRANGE ROCK-LIKE CREATURE

(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.  They are completely different stories.  My novel is available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)

©2014, 2017 Raji Singh

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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 commemorate the new school year, here’s a whimisical 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 every Sunday night 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, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LABOR’S DAY

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. 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 every Sunday night 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

VALENTINE, COME WITH ME TO THE KISSING TREE (A SUMMER ROMANCE)

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)

What is summer without a summer romance? Though they may not last forever, the memories do!

Enjoy a memory of a young boy’s summer bliss in this loving piece from the Fiction House Publishing’s,  The Seasons of My Giving Back by Mark Rogers.

cover the seasons of my giving back

*     *     *

Who would ever think? A broken furnace boiler leading to my first real kiss.

Oh, there’d been plenty on the cheek – by Mother, all the Aunties, by my imaginary muse, Luny Mum, and yech phew!  Fickle Marr-grr-ett from school.  Often came tickly pecks from Captain Polly.  From Turt, slurpy beak-snout nuzzles.  I’d feel butterfly wing flutters caress me when I walked through the Woods.

But none of them was anything like what was to come – and on a day so appropriate, Valentine’s Day!

(Had my joys of giving back to others, made me appreciate the giving backs to me?)

*     *     *

No matter, that it is the coldest day in all of Cincinnati history, I stay warm because I burn with ecstasy as I run home from Mrs. Florsheim’s fourth grade classroom.

Before I can herald the ice-shattering headline news – “NO SCHOOL, MOTHER; FOR AT LEAST A-WEEK-AND-A-HALF!  UNTIL THE NEW BOILER ARRIVES” – Mother greets me, even more excited than I, from atop the stairs.

“The principal called, Raji.  This means we will be able to accompany your Fa on his trip.  So hurry.  Come and pack your clothes.”

Within an hour, we are on the plane to New York to connect to a Lindia flight.

“You’ll get to see Reena,” Mother whispers so she won’t disturb other passengers; or maybe she wants to share a private moment.  Perhaps she doesn’t want to embarrass me in public.  “Valentine Day is big in Lindia as in America, Raji.  I knew you might not have time to get Reena a card.”

She hands me a red envelope.  “You can give Reena your heart.”

My Heart Flutters like Calico, A Foundling's Gentlest Friend (©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

My Heart Flutters like Calico, A Foundling’s Gentlest Friend
(©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

I mostly turn red, as the envelope.  But inside my smile fills me completely. ‘Reena!’ I haven’t seen her since last summer.

I sleep most all the way over the ocean.  I dream of Reena, working alongside as volunteers helping feed the poor, and then later playing together – jacks, cards, exploring the Lindian Woods.

When I drowsily awaken, I look out the window.  ‘Reena!’  Her semi-cupid smile and sweet chocolate hair sway gently in dreamy cloud drifts.

Our plane lands in Lindia City.  Fa goes to consult on a free clinic he and other doctors are establishing.  Mother and I visit the smooth-face Aunties and gray-bearded Uncles.

After so many cheeky kisses, both bristly and soft, Mother brings out a costume the Aunties have made for me.  The scents of their exotic perfumes, absorbed by the yellow silk cloth as they sewed it, lingers as I put it on.  A scarlet-teethed betel nut chewing Uncle whiskers my face with black paint and marks my bare arms with orange blotches.

I am to be a young tiger, alongside dozens of other similar young human cats, at a benefit for the clinic.  Another of my Uncles, Uncle Balu, a real life Tigerman, will be the entertainer.

~ ~  editor note:  The art of the Tigermen is ancient, its Lindian origins unknown.  The performer in tiger costume and regalia dances lithely as the big cat, and sings-growls hauntingly of its plight.  Tigerman troubadours traveled cities and villages entertaining just as circus, movie, and tv do today.  In the 21st century, Tigerwomen have joined in this resurging cultural phenomenon.  You can see a demonstration and learn more of the art of the Tigerperson in Raji Singh’s novel Tales of the Fiction House.  ~ ~

The curtain falls on our performance.  The tiger kids gather around Uncle Balu, adulation, as if he were a rock star.

I feel a paw on my shoulder.  I turn.  ‘Reena!’

She’s a face painted young tigress in golden slacks.  She was a dancer too.  I just hadn’t seen her in the masquerading tiger troupe.

Uncle Balu motions with his claw, ‘Go with Reena, Raji.  We’ll see each other often while she’s in school.’

Welcome to the Lindian Woods (Image ©2014 Raji Singh

Welcome to the Lindian Woods
(Image ©2014 Raji Singh

Reena and I walk into the bright sunlight, paw in claw.  I had thought that when we first saw each other we would screech and howl like wild cats, and pounce into the Lindian Woods.  Instead, we walk slowly and our words, especially mine, come like timid purrs and near-silent meows.

Purr!  Its been so long since I’ve seen you, Raji.”

“Meow.”

Reena takes a paper lace heart from her small purse.  “Happy Valentine’s Day, Raji.”

“Meow!”  I reach into my pocket.

Oh no!  I left the card on my suitcase when I changed for the show.  If only there was some tiger-magic that could make it bound through the window and fly to me.

Before I attempt to stammer, “I…I have a card for you too Reena,” I hear a voice saying, “Aark!  Ark!  I know what you’re thinking.  I’m on it.”  It’s Captain Polly.  She’s in a tree, camouflaged by colorful leaves.  I should have expected her to be spending a tropical few weeks here, while it’s 20 below in Cincinnati.

Inconspicuously, she swoops away.

Reena looks around.  “Did you hear someone calling for someone named, Mark?”

“Meow!”  A cat that swallowed the canary, I.  “I don’t think I heard anything, Reena.”

We walk through the woods, our purrs, our meows slowly becoming human words.

“Will you be coming to Lindia this summer?”

“Definitely, and for the whole summer.  We’ll work alongside each other, again.”

Behind the golden face paint, Reena’s smile becomes sun-bright.  I’m emboldened.  I twist my neck so our faces are inches apart.  Reena closes her eyes.  I wet my lips and I ready to…

A trumpeting blare coming from the close-by river startles us.  We pull away from each other.

Of course, I should know by now.  When Captain Polly is, nearby, Turt probably is too.

‘Darn it!’  I suddenly realize.  Turt’s blast was intentional – my shell fellow’s good-natured ploy of scaring, enabling me to take Reena into my protective embrace.

I hear,“Aark!  Aark!” once again.

Reena once again hears “Mark”, and walks around the woods looking for someone by that name.

Captain Polly carries the red envelope in one talon.  Swift as a falcon she swoops down, lights on my shoulder, and slips it down the back of my shirt.  She whispers so Reena cannot hear, “Take her on a romantic cruise.”

I’m confused.

“Upon Turt, silly boy.”

I know my facial expression asks, “Where?”

“Turt knows,” Captain Polly says, and flies, disappearing among tree leaves before Reena returns.

I open my mouth, no words, not even a timid meow or purr, come forth.

“Raji.  Are you okay?”

Suddenly Captain Polly’s voice becomes deep, and it’s as if she’s talking for me as Cyrano de Bergerac talked for the stupefied Christian to Roxanne.  “Mi Lady, your card.”

I remove it from my shirt.  With jittery fingers, I take it from the envelope and give it to her.

“Oh Raji.  It is beautiful.”

“Take my hand.  Come sailing with me,” Polly-Cyrano requests.

We walk to the river and board Turt’s carriage of a shell.  We sit close to one another and hold hands tight.  As an excuse, we say, “So neither of us might topple into the water.”

Turt sets sail, always looking straight ahead to allow us to be alone.  Neither of us talks as we drift; free of all school and playground worries.  Our winged Cyrano keeps her big beak out of our privacy by flying parallel to us, an unseen chaperone hidden in the woodland.

The warm breeze pushes through the round curls of Reena’s hair.  I feel I’m drowning deliciously in the jasmine perfume of her shampoo.  I put my head to hers.

She doesn’t pull away.

I know we both are feeling the pulse of each other’s temples beating as one.  Even when a curious alligator swims up to investigate the goings-on on his or her river, and Turt opens his razor-sharp beak-snout to ‘HISS’ him or her away, we do not separate.

Are we oblivious, or are we blissfully in lo…No, I’m sure I’m too young for that.

After 20 minutes, Turt ports riverside.  Gently I hold Reena’s hand and we disembark.

Captain Polly-Cyrano de Bird-gerac re-emerges from her quiet.  “Come Mi-lady.  Walk with me.”

Turt motions with his beak-snout the path we should take.  Slowly he trails us.

I’m dying to speak for myself.  Just when I start to, Captain Polly shows herself and squawks,

Aark!  Beware, Raji, Reena, Turt.

”Behind you!”

When danger arises, Turt can step sideways on his fin-claws fast as a spinning top.  The entirety of his sharp-edged shell frame becomes a deadly cudgel if need be.  As Reena and I turn, Turt is already facing a 600-pound tiger that has leaped from the underbrush, and is within one bound of us.

The beast’s scream-roar vibrates the trees in the Lindian Woods. Small creatures shriek and scatter.

The Lindian River and those of fin within it tremble.

Reena pulls my arm.  “Let’s run, Raji.”

Aark!  Stay where you are,” squawks Captain Polly.  “He’s jealous, Reena, Raji.  Braak! You make prettier tigers than he will ever be.  Turt and I will cure him of his rage.”

Captain Polly flies, talons bared toward the top of the tiger’s head.  She gouges, again, again, grounding him, mid-pounce, as he leaps toward us.

That’s when Turt rams the tiger’s stomach with his shell.  His automobile-equal weight winds the beast, and he flops lamely to the twiggy floor. Turt’s been traversing the Lindian Woods for well over a hundred years. He’s an old pro at handling its tigers. He clamps his fin-claw atop the breathless tiger to imprison him.

Turt winks and motions with his beak-snout proudly raised high, as if to say,

‘You three proceed.  I’ll have no trouble making sure this one doesn’t follow.  If he even tries anything, well, I pity him. I loyally await your return.’

“Follow me,” beckons Captain Polly.

Reena and I hold hands, tightly.

In a few minutes, we arrive at something so majestic, so overpowering, so like I’ve never before seen, that my eyes water.  A lump forms in my throat and I am speechless.  Towering above us is two Lindian Fan Trees.  By their height, and the sturdiness of their entwined roots that grow together as bastion legs just above the ground, I know they’re well over 100 years old.  Their lean trunks grow at a slight angle upward, and then veer inward 15 feet in the air, merge, as two mouths meeting, before continuing their separate paths skyward.

“The…the…”  Reena can hardly speak either.  “I’ve heard stories of it.    But I never really thought it existed.  It is so grand.”

Aark!  The Kissing Tree,” squawks Captain Polly.  “Kiss her you, fool.”

I take Reena in my arms and our mouths meet.

Come With Me to the Kissing Tree (Image ©2014 Raji Singh)

Walk With Me to the Kissing Tree
(Image ©2014 Raji Singh)

(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.  They are completely different stories. My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2015 Raji Singh

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

CHEF R.K.’S GOURMET SURPRISE, A MEMORABLE SUMMER MEAL

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)

After our interlude with Tiger and Tigerman, we are famished!  Time to return to Raji’s remembrance of his summer adventure!

     *     *     *

Had your dinner yet? If not, please enjoy a rollicking piece from the Fiction House Publishing’s work,  The Seasons of My Giving Back.cover the seasons of my giving back

In the preceding chapters,  I discover that my ‘giving-back to the world’ summer job as youngster would be volunteering on a road kill clean up gang.  How can this help others?  Soon I would see, and it would change my life.

Ingredient I:  A Large Portion of Can Do

Once upon a time as a lad, I possessed a plastic picture finger ring.  From the first day I saw it in the bric-a-brac shop – MAGIC!  Twist it, just slightly.  A glittery red, white, blue image quickly changes, back and forth, from Old Glory to President Kennedy.  I listen as his courageous profile challenges me:

“Ask not what your country can do for you, Raji.  What can you do for it, hmm?”

I fury, fume, and wonder aloud.  “How can I help?  There must be a way.  There must!”  But, to a ten year old in Cincinnati, everything seemed right in my world.

When my parents overheard me and saw the ring they said, “Raji, you are too young for the late President’s Peace Corps.  Yet there is much you can do.”

For this task, the trips to their homeland, Lindia.

Though Lindia is but my adopted country, as an orphaned foundling, its kind people helped saved my life following the typhoon.

So this is where I began my many ‘can do’ summers, volunteering for something I’d not anticipated, certainly not relished – the road kill clean-up crew.  Many wonderful things came from it:

Just one of them – meeting lifelong friend, Chef R.K.

(His real name is Rhandi Khan.  But because of his unusual roadwork, initials R.K. seemed more appropriate.)

Ingredient II: A Touch of Magic

A type of painting similar to the here-now flagged-later Kennedy ring, murals the side of Chef R.K.’s twenty-foot long wagon that sits alongside the road in the Lindian Woods.  The painting shows Lindia’s Goddess Nardesha.

Blink and her outstretched palms lift from her creamy silk gown.  She raises upward, Heaven bound.

Other images painted on the wagon:  long lines of crunched road kill.  You can almost hear Nardesha whisper to them, “Come with me, my gentle creatures.  The bondage of your spirits to this earthly realm is complete.”

You blink; mongoose, cobra, lizard, squirrel, a fish – a FISH? – And dozens of other artist-depicted road kill puff out, are reborn, and then parade proudly skyward.

“You like picture?”  Chef R.K. asks, hardly looking away from his cooking.  His grill is the length of the wagon, and three-feet deep.  Covering its surface are sizzling meats he filleted from flattened critters.  They intermingle with steamy vegetables and pots of bitter-smelling broth.

R.K, in his 40’s is lean and tan, his face clean-shaven.  He is shirtless, and in short pants to keep cool in the warm Lindian sun.  His arms, hand and head move so fast you’d think his ancestors were octopus.

His magic dust he sprinkles constantly:  Ground herbs and spices in pouches hanging from his belt.  They marry the bill of fare then birth tantalizing sweet scents.

R.K. controls his outdoor kitchen as a concert pianist does piano keys.

Nothing burns.

He removes sumptuous morsels, large and small, round, square, long, that were once animal sacrifices to the speeding steel gods of the highways.  Now the critters are platefuls of inviting delicacies.  Mongoose-cobra, rat-wildcat, eternal enemies sauteed together as one.  He passes the dishes quickly to a line of other volunteer boys and girls who distribute them to the hundreds of bedraggled humanity.

“The impoverished, Raji” he says, putting his mouth near my ear so I may hear midst the clattering pots and pans.  “They too have the right to taste the wealth of Goddess Nardesha’s sumptuous array of bounty.  Her food minions such as I; we have the ability to provide it, lovingly, tastefully.  This is why I do what I do.  I serve but the freshest of kill.”

Because of all the chattering of the gathering, and all the happy eating sounds, I can hardly hear Chef R.K. say “hello-goodbye” to my parents.  He knew they were bringing me.  After hugging me, they leave, not wanting to be in the way.

I know I won’t see them for weeks, but it is hard to feel my sadness at their departure for too long because R.K. instantly puts me to work midst the frenzy.

Ingredient III:  Endless Humble Offerings

Welcome to the Lindian Woods (Image ©2014 Raji Singh

Welcome to the Lindian Woods
(Image ©2014 Raji Singh)

Everything R.K. serves comes from the Lindian Woods. He points to boxes of orange and yellow cocoa pods other volunteers gather.  “Crack open.  All these, Raji.  Separate bean from white.”  His voice necessarily is staccato, to keep pace with his swift actions.

I slam the pods together like castanets.  They open easily.  The insides are marshmallow soft, chocolaty pungent.  I barely have time to taste it.  R.K. ratchets it away and spreads it on the grill for flavoring.  He waves his arms from his chest, outward, to indicate to me the impoverished.

“Today, we serve them.  “So we eat last,” he orders.

When all the pods are open – “Good Raji,” he says tersely.  “Now.  Sprinkle this on the oxen’s grass.  He gives me a bucket of sour smelling powder.  “When that is done.  Shovel up their droppings.  Bring them to me.”

One of the other busy volunteers – a freckled, black haired girl my age, who for reasons I couldn’t yet understand at that time in my life – smiles hugely at me. She whispers, “The powder is R.K’s secret extract.  It makes the droppings smell sweet as clover when burned.  This is a must.  Because it is with it he heats the grill.”

She fidgets timidly in her jeans and t-shirt.  Her black eyes sparkle.  She smells sweet, like vanilla ice cream.  “My name is Reena, Raji.”

Dozens of tasks I accomplish that first day on the road kill crew – stoking the lavender aroma flames, washing pans, slicing pineapple, mashing mango – all for the purpose of feeding those in need.

By now, I am drained of energy.

Reena brings fresh coconut milk and we share a half-shell.  Inconspicuously, she wipes my face so R.K. doesn’t see we sneaked it.  Briefly, she holds my hand.  Her fingers are warm, lithe.  I breathe deeply.  This moment of joy, like I’ve never known before, this brief respite from President Kennedy’s “can do”, renews me.

“Yes!”  I shout inwardly.  I suddenly understand, feel the importance of President Kennedy’s words.  To me they mean, ‘only by helping others will you help yourself.’

Though we’ll eat nothing until all are fed, this thought would power me through the afternoon, then the rest of the summer, stay with me throughout my life.  And the succulent scents – they would give me strength of willpower as well as muscle.

Ingredient IV:  Fish, But Never Foul

Every so often, a volunteer runs up, shouting while carrying a dead fish.  “She’s delivered another one.”

R.K. takes it, sniffs, smiles, says,  “I can always count on her to deliver only fresh.”

‘Her?’  I look around.  ‘Her, who?’  I wonder. Finally, another curiosity gets the best of me.  I must ask, “How…a fish as road kill?  How could so many keep falling off trucks?”

R.K. laughs, but his mournful sound seems a dirge.  Midst his busyness, he takes time to explain.  “There is sea kill too, Raji.  The wood and fiberglass gods of the water – the yachts – they leave much torture in their wake.  As long as there is sea kill and road kill you will find me here summers and holy days.”

All of a sudden, I hear a familiar voice.  “Aarrk!  Catch Raji.”  I look into the blue sky.  Just in time to put my hands out, and grab what a parrot drops – a four-pound fish – bigger than her, her biggest delivery of the day. “Ahoy, Captain Polly,” I shout, so excited in my surprise to see her.

“You know our Captain Polly,” says Reena.  “Often she helps us.”

“We are the best of friends, in Cincinnati.  Geez, Reena.  It’s such a small world.”  Suddenly I have this desire to show Reena all my hiding spots and favorite places in my neighborhood back home.

My smile gets huge as Reena’s as she looks at me.  I’ll just bet she knows what I am thinking.

Reena stammers a little, and glances away briefly, deciding what she will say.  “Umm, Raji.  Uh, well…  Captain Polly certainly does get around.  Maybe you know her compatriot in the water?”

I look through the Woods, to the muddy river that parallels the road.  I see the top portion of a tattooed brown shell bobbing above the water.  “Turt!” Turt’s a land-sea creature called a Trumpeter. He’s the size of a giant Galapagos turtle. He ferried me on his shell from the ocean and through the Lindian Woods to safety after the typhoon.  He saved my life!

Turt winks at me and with his beak-snout, and scoops up unfortunate sea kill and tosses it skyward.

Swooping Captain Polly seizes it in her talons.  She grunts as she’s pulled slightly down by the weight.  She manages to stay airborne.

Oh, so that how she’s able to deliver such huge loads.  Her momentum plus her ‘can do’ willpower propels her.

Captain Polly drops the fish to R.K., then lights on my shoulder to rest.

I smile, and pet her glistening blue and golden plumage.

R.K. laughs.  “Well, Raji.  Appears it is old home week.  It ought to be an adventurous summer for you three musketeers.”

I look at Reena and say to myself, “the four of us.”

Ingredient V:  Replenishing the Spirit

It’s getting dark.  The poor, fed for another day.  Only the volunteers remain.  We eat, yet there is plentiful uncooked food remaining.

“Nothing wasted,” declares R.K.  “We’ll slow cook the remaining overnight on the cooling grill.  It will provide many breakfasts.”

With the help of Turt who moseys up from the river, we all load the grill onto the wagon.  Captain Polly squawks directions.  “Higher, lower.  Aarrk!  To the left, right.”

We yoke the oxen and harness them to the wagon.  The volunteers disperse.

Walk With Me to the Kissing Tree (Image ©2014 Raji Singh)

Walk With Me to the Kissing Tree
(Image ©2014 Raji Singh)

Reena remains.  She pulls me aside.  Her face shimmers in the starlight.  “My parents will be picking me up soon, Raji.  I…I…just wanted to say how glad I am we met.  I’ll be returning to help R.K. again next week.  I…I’m anxious to see you again.”

Headlights beaming onto Nardesha indicate an approaching car.  Reena kisses my cheek, and runs to the vehicle and gets in.

I feel…I don’t know what I feel.  Surprise?  Joy? Shock?

All these emotions roil wildly within me.

The Final Ingredient:  Contentment

The oxen, so used to R.K.’s route, pull the wagon by rote.  They’ll know to stop just before daylight, so R.K. can ready for another day’s cooking.  He and I recline on sleeping bags atop an elevated bunk on the wagon.  We are far above any wild animals that are fortunate to avoid becoming road kill.

Captain Polly is dozily reliving the day with Turt as she perches atop his shell.  He rides on a sturdy sidecar-like storage platform attached to the wagon.

R.K. points skyward.  “You will learn the constellations as summer passes, Raji.  It is so relaxing to search the heavens.  See there.  That is Orion.  Look, Andromeda.  She is a beautiful young princess.”

I study the formation, but I don’t see stars, only Reena.

I think R.K. reads my thoughts.

He says, “You like Reena, yes Raji?”

I nod.

“Good,” he says.  “She is a sweet girl.  She has been a little helper of mine, almost ever since she could walk.  She lives by my restaurant in Lindia City?  I am sure you’ll get a chance to see her a lot.”

R.K starts telling me about himself, his wife and grown children, his history with road kill wagons – he has one of them in each of Lindia’s 40 provinces, all with their cooks, volunteers.  I hear what he says, but my thoughts are on Reena.

Anxiously I ask, “Does Reena have a boyfr…

Before I can finish, Captain Polly, half squawks half sings,

“Reena, dear Reena.  Our dear Raji is smitten.”  Turt joins the serenade, with a trilling trumpeting.

The Final Garnishment

I went to the Lindian Woods one summer, decades later, to visit R.K.

Nowhere in sight.

I returned to Lindia City and stopped at his always-crowded restaurant.  The road kill wagon sat cobwebbed in the alley.  He took a few moments to visit.

“The steel gods of the highway Raji:  They’re ever bigger, soar ever faster.  Yet there is little road kill to collect.  Who would ever think?  It is because there are so few of Nardesha’s creatures remaining to pass from one side of the road to the other.  Who can say why so many are no longer here:  Chemicals, pesticides, changing temperatures, the flooding coasts?  SAD!  Which species will be next, Raji?  Yours and mine?”

If you knew R.K. as I do, you’d know he is undefeatable.

He pats my shoulder before returning to the grill.  “Raji, we road kill chefs have a new weapon.  It is something so simple.  It is called ‘NOTHING WASTED’.  We make sure there is no waste in any of our restaurants.  From just here in Lindia City, we feed hundreds of thousands poor each year.”

R.K. smiles broadly as he happily flips, fillets, and fricassees.           

(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.  They are completely different stories. My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2015 Raji Singh

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

GLOBAL TIGER DAY AND BALU’S ULTIMATE PERFORMANCE

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)

Today is Global Tiger Day!

At the Fiction House, we are celebrating the striped warriors, the tigers.  Our thanks to the  World Wildlife Foundation for tracking tiger populations across the globe.  In the effort, a WWF photographer has miraculously captured the first video of a wild tiger high in the mountains of Bhutan. The country , though small, is an international leader in tiger preservation.

We at the Fiction House have had our own amazing encounters.  In honor of tigers and Raji’s protector Balu the Tigerman, here is an excerpt from Tales of the Fiction House.  This is one of Raji’s most harrowing adventures!

*****

Tigerman sees tiger in mid-air, flying straight for Turt and James. Calico flits near Tigerman’s ear and Tigerman believes he hears the peaceful voice of Carpier: ‘Rightfully, you did not help earlier; but Balu, NOW you must!’

Time has arrived for Balu’s ultimate performance: Tiger-man verse Tiger-beast. He has gotten James so close to the destination and the people he had planned to deliver Doctor and Mrs. Fiction. So, today, he would battle his nemesis for the life of the ‘ONE’; the final Fiction.Turt sees something-someone, torpedo parallel to the ground, toward the mid-pounce tiger. Another tiger? A man? No its – Tigerman. He’s spinning like a bullet in a gun’s chamber to keep his direction straight.

Tigerman-Balu thanks Nardesha for providing him Bowie-claw, but human pride – ‘a two-leg needn’t a crutch to defeat four-leg nemesis.’ He throws Bowie. It sticks into a tree. Whether he lives or dies, he would do so with the honor of a Tigerman, and Turt would now have time to get James safely to the village.

Tigerman slams, ‘thump’, into the creature nearly four times his weight. They meld into a roiling yellow mass.

Calico flits above them to try to distract the tiger. Turt, elated at seeing old pal, wanting to help, but pragmatic, scoots to the shaking boy he bucked from his shell moments before. All that is happening mesmerizes James. He can barely move. Turt must scoop him up and onto his shell.

Calico, a boy’s flitting protector. (©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

ONE CAGEY CAT ENTERS THE RING

Woodland creatures gather to watch the battlers midst Poppy Sol’s setting glint.

Tiger pride – Tiger rises to haunches to show his height equals any two-legs’. He swipes claws. Tigerman, his face drawn in concentration, dodges. To other humans the claws would be razor blazes. To Balu, with six decades experience in the mystic art of ‘tigermanning’ that melds motion and thought, they are slow-moving stumps.

Like a seemingly overmatched boxer, Tigerman dodges, weaves. Stirred dust shadows around his opponent. Tiger sneezes. Refereeing squirrels and rabbits scatter as tiger phlegm gushes past them. A treed carrion crow, anxious for morsels of human remains he’s wagering Tiger will provide, shrieks new rounds every few minutes.

Something unprecedented suddenly happens.

Tiger halts offensive, balances upright, and glares at two-leg. ‘Only guile can defeat this ultra-endowed two-leg.’ Next, the thing animals who edge backwards, to watch safely from behind ferns and hollow logs think unfathomable, occurs: A wild one begins talking to tame.

WILD: “Foolish Tigerman; you cannot defeat me without your claw.”

TAME: “Need only tire you, woodland sire. I have no desire to harm any creature – be they two-leg or four.”

Creatures of all legs chirp, squawk, and in general bellow approval. None likes the idea of being chow for the ones above them on nature’s ladder. At this sound of woodland anarchy-in-the-making, of which Tiger is the chief despot, Tiger roars, silencing all.

Turt is inching toward the village. ‘If any human can buy the time for us, it is my old vaudeville compatriot.’

Still upright Tiger points Turt’s way. “Fight me, Tigerman, like a true Tiger would, or in two leaps I’ll get to your shelled friend, and in two bites I’ll dessert on his tender cargo.”

Tigerman curls pseudo-claw hands. They sweat. He wipes them on his silk tail. Luny Mum glistens off his tiger-like whisker face that reveals no emotion.

Tiger states in cat scr-eam-casm. “After the count of three Tiiggeerrmaan, I’ll be enjoying cub and picking teeth with shards of the domed one if you don’t flight me with your real claw. Go ahead, get it,” he growls temptingly. “One…” he counts slowly.

Turt inches on.

“Two…”

James screams as if he knows, from the quiet around him, what his fate will be.

“Thr…”

Tigerman lurches toward the tree twenty yards away where Bowie lodges. Never before had Tigerman harmed human, animal, reptile, or insect. Now, he is forced.

“Human sucker, fool,” Tiger roars. He lights on all fours and bounds toward Turt and child.

To be continued…(Never fear, Readers.  I survived to tell the tale!–Raji)

(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.  They are completely different stories. My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2017 Raji Singh

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

SUMMER ROAD WARRIOR

by Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we’ll never have 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’ll never have 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)

Enjoying the memories of summer road trips with the Fiction House

(This post was the foundation of the novel, The Seasons of My Giving Back.  It reminds us of the power of caring for one another.)

* **

  I am James Thaddeus Fiction, the Fifth – a true Fiction.  Typhoon tears me from my parents.  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.

*     *     *

     At least twice a year – from kindergarten to high school – Lindia bound with my parents.  Away from comfortable home quarters at the Fiction House Medical Clinic in Cincinnati, we’d fly, to some impoverished hospital half-a-world away.

Side by side, they ‘cared for’; with me fetching blankets, ferrying bandages, filling water bottles.

“You are learning of one of life’s greatest and yet simplest gifts,” Mother would tell me after a long day.  “Giving!”

Fa, ever the believer that, “there are good lessons to learn in every situation, son,” would add, as if he were prescribing a long-known miracle drug.  “Every unselfish act, Raji, helps you avoid, septem peccata mortalia, those seven deadly sins that tempt all humans:  Lust, envy, gluttony, sloth, greed, envy, wrath.”

I enjoyed helping the sick by assisting my parents, but a nurse or doctor I’d never be.  Soon, they sensed this.

“Many are the ways for you to help people, Raji,” they agreed.  “You will find one if you use that vivid imagination of yours.  In the meantime, we have just the right thing for you while we are at Hospital.”

As any other ten-year-old – Adventure – that is what I yearned:  I’d just read Robinson Crusoe.

So, as we traveled, to where this mystery assignment would commence, I was allowing my imagination free play, as a way to wile away the early morning hours.  Never ending are the tales a tyke can create while riding alone in the back seat of his parent’s sedan.

I smiled broadly and said to myself.  “My parents will sense my desire.  They’ll let me ‘give’, by allowing me to work on a cobra-milking farm – where the venom is transformed into healing medicines.  I’ll become the Number One Squeezer in all Lindia.”

I hear a deep ‘Hah!  Hah!’

Did Fa hear my thoughts; or sense my thoughts?  No he and Mother are chit chattering about illnesses.

Poppy Sol, bouncing brightly along the treetops of the Lindian Woods, looks through my window.  He’s nearly out of breath from trying to keep up with our vehicle’s pace, but still he’s able to sputter.  ‘Hah, lad.  Kidding ye must be.  Never would your Fa, let alone your Ma allow you to become a Squeezer.’

My aspiration of adventurous altruism skids to a dead stop.

But one of Poppy Sol’s stray rays allows a flickering rebirth of hope.  ‘Holt on a minute now, me young bloke.  Just perhaps, I may have a gra-a-a-nd way to bring about a change of mind in them.  Let’s say we…’

I am so excited, but I cannot understand the rest, so, to the glass I put my ear, to, better hear.  Sol can be a mighty prankster – at least in my tyke imagining.  But I’m just sure this is no pranking.

Luny Mum’s beam enters, right through the window glass on the other side of the vehicle.  She taps my shoulder.  ‘Don’t you be believin’ a word that fabricatin’ ol Sol be tellin’, Raji.’

Loving Mum, she’s readying to bid adieu to the day, but still she takes time for me.

‘Raji, as your earth mum says, “use your imaginin’.”  Dream like a King, mi lad.  And Think.  Of how might you inspire?  How might you unite?’

Hmm!  I wonder.  How?  Then a flash of brilliance comes.  ‘I know what I’ll do Luny Mum.’  Poppy Sol glares through the window at me, anxiously awaiting my decision.  This time I know he won’t guffaw.  My great idea burns in my thoughts hot and bright as Sol.  I sniff.  I think I smell my brain afire.  Burning brain:  It smells rubbery.  I never took time to notice the acrid scent of smoldering synapses in the hospital, if ever there was an occasion to notice such a thing.  I look around:  No smoke billowing from my ears.  Look up:  My cowlick isn’t a red flame lick.

‘THUMP!  THUMP!  THUMP!’    

The sedan hit a pothole, causing a flat tire.  That’s what I smell.  Fa retreats to repair it.  Mother keeps him company.  As we sit, a line of chauffeured silver and gold Rolls Royce and Bentley pass us.  I blink.  No, I’m not imagining this.  I see it – with my own eyes.  I just hope not all those well-dressed passengers had my grand idea at the same time I did.  And now they’ll beat me to the punch; or in their case, the champagne.

Luny Mum interrupts my thoughts.  ‘Tell us your plan, young ‘un.’

‘I’ll become a tiger trainer.  We’ll take the big cats to the hospitals to entertain the sick.’

Whaat ho, lad?’  Queries Poppy Sol.

I look out; think I see laugh lines creasing Sol’s glow.

‘Hah!  Hah!  The patients are there to be cured.  Not get eaten.  Don’t be daft, lad.  They wouldn’t let your creatures past the front doors.  Hah!  Hah!’

     ‘Sol’s right, Raji.  You must think of other ways to help.’

But I thought it was such a good idea.

My parents get back in and we’re off.  Curious, I ask.  “What are all those fancy cars doing so far from Lindia City?  On such a desolate road?”

Mother turns, squinting to see me midst Sol’s glow of curiosity.  He also wants to find out why.  Mother’s soft face is aglow with compassion as she explains.  “Often these days, Raji, such royal caravans may be seen.  They too make pilgrimage, for a sole purpose – to give food to poor people.”

“HA!  HA!”  This time the laugh isn’t from Poppy Sol, but Fa.  He looks briefly from the road ahead to address Mother.  “You know well as I Indira, why they journey.”

“But at least they do, Ben.  That is enough for me.”

Fa begins carrying on a ‘prescription’ conversation with me, glancing at me in the rear view mirror almost as much as he does at the road.  “As Goddess Nardesha proclaims, Raji.  It is easier for an elephant to traverse safely through an active beehive than for gentry to enter the glorious hereafter.”

Mother laughs.  Luny Mum joins her.  I wish the two could meet.  I know they’d enjoy the others company.  Maybe one day they will.  Mother says, “Goddess Nardesha has an irascible sense of humor that your Fa likes, Raji.  And she is right.  To appease Nardesha:  That, I believe is why the royal caravans have come into existence…

“Watch the road, Ben.”

As their front seat chit chattering focuses on elephants, beehives, and gentry, Luny Mum’s gentle beam strokes my shoulder.  ‘Other ideas lad, other ideas.  You’ll not want to become one of Nardesha’s pachyderms.’

‘I know just the thing, Luny Mum.  To the sea, I could sail.  Train otters to catch fish for me.  Then I’ll bring the nets-full, to the poor.’

‘Never,’ glares Sol.  ‘Fish!  Where’s the ADVENTURE?  Besides, those you mayest ‘elp be land bound.  In your journey, the floppers would half-bake in me heat.  Would do more hurt than ‘elp.’

‘You’ll have to imagine another way to help the earthbound,’ Mum glows.

“Ben, watch the roa…”  ‘SCREECH!’  Fa swerves to avoid creating road kill of a mangy mongoose.

I’m pushed against the door.  The jolt frees the answer that must have been in my thoughts all along, but trapped.  ‘I know Poppy Sol.  I know Luny Mum.  I shall give back, by helping.  This solution will be unbeatable.’

The celestial glares and glows show that Sol and Mum are interested in this latest proposal.

In unison.  ‘Go on lad.  We await your decision.’

I am so excited I talk so fast I hardly stop for breaths.  ‘Poison tip dart artisan for tribesman to use in their blowguns.  To defend their forests from foreign tree rustlers who ravage the land for selfish profit motives.  Those, elephants, care not a whit about the people, animals, and plants they displace and destroy.’

Sol glistens.  ‘Blimey, lad.  Poison tips.  An excellent idea to rid the undesirables.’

Mum’s stern reaction.  ‘Nonsense you two.  Never ‘ave I heard anything so ridiculous.’

‘No, no, Mum.  Fa has medicines that deaden but do not kill.  The rustlers are unconscious, just long enough for the tribesman to inform authorities to come and jail them.’

I see I’ve convinced Sol, but Mum, she still needs work.

“Watch the road, Ben.”  ‘SCREECH!  THUMP!’  Fa slides into the back Rolls of the royal caravan.  To protect from injury Mother braces her hands against the dashboard, and Fa holds tight to the steering wheel.  I am tossed, over and into the front seat, landing, jostling safely onto Mother’s lap.

‘Youch!  That’s gotta hurt lad.’

“Not really, Sol,” I say aloud.

“What say, Raji?”  Mother asks, gently stroking my cheek.

“Oh, just imagining,” I say.

Luny Mum strokes my other cheek.  ‘It is time I take my leave, lad.  Glad everyone is safe.’  With no fanfare, Mum fades, disappearing into the blue.

We get out of the car just in time to see the train-like chain reaction of Rolls and Bentleys slowly bumping, one at a time, undamaged into the car preceding it.  Their natty sarong and dhoti-attired owners are too occupied to notice, or care.  They’re quite conspicuously appeasing Nardesha by directing their tuxedoed butlers to distribute, from porcelain tureens, sweet smelling delicacies, to the unending lines of raggedy passers-by.  Some of these poor stop to taste, but only for a moment.  Most continue the ongoing movement forward, as if some holy destination lays ahead, some nirvana worth passing up the caravan’s mere morsels.

As Mother, Fa, I, and, Poppy Sol follow, I notice dozens of youth, around my age.  They load unfortunate road kill onto carts, then they also move forward.

I squint upward.  Anxious in my curiosity I query Sol.  ‘From your position, you can see what is ahead.  Where is everyone going?  Is the reason they’re not stopping to eat the gentry’s food, does that have something to do with it?’

‘HA!  HA!’ is Sol’s reply.  ‘Raji, I can see quite clearly from here the job your folks have arranged for you.’

‘Tell me.  I am so anxious to know.  What it is?  Tiger tamer?  Cobra Squeeze?  Poison tipper?  Otter fisher?’

‘You’ll not like it, young bloke.’

‘You’re wrong Sol.  Any helpin’ kind of daring-do adventurin’, ‘ll do me fine.’

‘Well then, brace yourself, lad.  Your ‘elpin’ ‘ll be…

On the road kill gang.  Surely that’ll ‘elps ya from becomin’, a elephant.’

It’s a good thing our whole conversation took place in my imagination:  Because my mental shout of ultimate disappointment would have deafened all within a mile.

What possible good for humankind could the road kill gang provide, I ask myself?

And, just where, oh where – are all the poor, bound?

NEXT WEEK:  ONWARD, TO SAVOR CHEF R.K.’S GOURMET SURPRISE

(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.  They are completely different stories. My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2014 Raji Singh

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THE GLUMS, PART II

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)

Today is National Ice Cream Day!  So, have a bowl and forget your glums!

Here’s an 1820’s tale about my great-great-grandfather, the Carper. (An excerpt from Tales of the Fiction House)

*    *    *

Mariner spins and spins for Carper. Next tale, “Pharaoh’s daughter, the beautiful Princess, she discovers baby Moses agrowin’ ‘mongst the Nile’s bulrushes and reeds. He’s a mighty foundlin’. Sproutin up, leadin ‘is people through torturous deserts to freedom. Still leadin em yet today.”

Carper’s eyes spark. “Still?”

Mariner nods. “So jus’ maybe you’ll grow up to do some leadin’ of yer own.” He strokes Carper’s face. His crinkly lines of melancholy begin disappearing. “N’ then Carper, there’s Romulus and Remus. Foundlin’ twins suckled to survive by mama she-wolf in a grassy valley of seven hills. Them boys went on to found the great city, ROME, twixt those hills. I ported there dozens a times. Bee-youtiful’ Carper. You’ll go there one day.”

Carper’s eyes spark.

Mariner picks a couple of ratty-tatty books from the shelf and opens them to pictures of ‘M’ in the bulrushes and ‘R’ and ‘R’ at the teats.

Carper’s imagination is entree into the pages. Escape to imagination begins washing away the GLUMS. The tunnel begins shrinking, then, zap, like that, disappears.

Carper wades out to meet Moses. Princess lifts the future prophet, but wait – a cratered old gator is sliding their way. His vibrating growls quake the pages. The Princess’ delicate gold bracelets and necklace chime as they brush her silken gown. Growl isn’t from the gator. His snout is closed. Carper glances out from the pages, to the wanted poster. Laza Bones Thibidioux turns Adonis-side profile and shows his mangled gator side. He’s the growler. He peers at the helpless trio retreating to shore.

He snorts, ‘Git em ol Uncle. Feast on der bones den toss one out ta yer kin.’

Uncle ratchets mouth, snaps inches from Princess’ waist. Her golden belt rips away and tangles in his pointy teeth. Looking victim to an overzealous ancient dentist Unc leaps above water. ‘CHOMP!; Just misses swaddled Moses.

Carper uproots a rigid reed, taller than he is. He parries, thrusts, as he did battling Turt. He realizes what he must do to save Moses, but not the same thing that saved him from Turt. With free hand, he plucks another reed. He slaps Uncle Gator’s snout with one while jabbing with the other. Unc winces, but he’s a comer.

‘Git that Carper, Uncle,’ Laza Bones shouts.

Carper lets him get just so close, then rams reed between Uncle’s upper and lower jaw. It sticks, holding open snout. Squealing, frightful noises no Princess should ever hear! She covers ears. Carper, to the rescue. To give her majesty time to get away he begins spinning the uncle like a bottle, pushing him to shore. He upends him with the reed as he did Turt with Harpoon. He stands triumphant atop flopping reptile. Poised rigidly with reed he looks a miniature of Mariner’s ‘Poseidon with trident’ picture.

‘Curse you Carper,’ shouts Laza Bones Thibidioux.

Suddenly Carper finds himself watching from a few pages on as loving wolf mother nurses Romulus and Remus. A galloping gator descends a hill and heads toward the unsuspecting trio. ‘Git em Auntie,’ shouts Thibidioux. ‘Keill the beetch and adopt the boys fer yeren’ own. Haul em back to the bayou where dey can be learned the swamp things that’ll let em rule the world.’

No reed. No harpoon. Carper knows he must make do. He looks about barren valley. He spies a ropey snake and grabs it. Auntie lunges. He snaps snake like a whip, coiling it around her snout. (Just like Kunta did to save the Reverend at the river, James lauds. Maybe Carper and Kunta met somewhere along the way?) Carper loads Romulus and Remus onto mother’s back. She smiles thanks, R & R gurgle, and off to safety they ride.

‘GRR,’ Thibidioux growls. His teeth chatter as terbaccy stick he chews sticks in his craw. He chokes it out. “Ye’s not seen de las a me’s, mon fishboy.’

Carper exits the book.

The GLUMS! Gone. But remnants remain. Carper shakes; cries out. “I’m not Moses. Not the twins. You tell me I’m Carper. But I know I’m not. Who’m I Mariner?”

Turt cranes neck so his calming, hypnotic eyes are parallel to Carper’s. ‘Relax Carper. Breathe slow, deep. Count the twinkling starfish as they swirl.’

Ol Tom purrs, gently slipping his head to Carper’s cheek.

Mariner squints. “You have to be someone son. Least for a while. Up to me to help that along, til you can decide who you be. I didn’t just pluck your name from the sea. I named you after one of the noblest foundlings of all time, the renowned Carpier of Lindia, a great poet and storyteller who inspired his people. He led them to freedom of not only body, but of spirit.”

“Carpier?”

‘Carpier?’ James, too questions, right along with his great-great grandfa. I know that name.’ James stands invisibly next to Carper. Their shoulders rub, but neither feels other.

“Patience. I’ll be spoutin ‘a the Carpier right soon.” Mariner rights up the slouching boy.

Suddenly Mariner begins peering over to the space – where James ain’t. He whooshes his hand, right through James.

For a moment, James thinks he can read Mariner’s thoughts, ‘You be there, but a haint you ain’t. I’ll untangle that mystery knot.’

Then Mariner continues talk with Carper. “In Carpier you have a great legacy to live up to. But I saw right away when I fished you from under that cart that you got it in you.”

Mariner runs fingers over Turt’s shell as a sea captain would a globe. He stops at a thin, turbaned man. “I tried my hand at carvin’ one time. Carved Carpier, sittin lotus-leg next to Kunta’s village. He’s tellen ‘em tales to make their days go easier since they lost their beloved Kunta to the slavers. He’s tellen em, ‘Kunta forever resides now with their ancestors in Polaris’.”

Mariner looks back over at James. Again, James is deciphering Mariner’s thoughts, ‘I’s sure you taint a haint. Just as sure as I knows you ain’t the Carpier; ‘cause I knows the Carpier. Say, are you the little Kunta returnin’ from his restin-place Polara for a spell?’

You want to break down time barriers and shout the surprise: ‘Kunta’s growed and alive, Mariner. A ropin’,’ariling downriver.’ Sure wish some way I could let you know that.

(To see Part I of the Glums, go to Post No. 162.)

(Read more of Carper’s tale in the novel, Tales of Fiction House. 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.)

(Tales of the Fiction House ©2012  is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2012 Raji Singh

©2015, 2017 Raji Singh (New Material)

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THE GLUMS

By Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we’ll never have 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’ll never have 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)

In case you need something to cheer you up after the 4th of July fireworks have faded, here’s an 1820’s tale about my great-great-grandfather, The Carper.  (An excerpt from Tales of the Fiction House)

*   *   *  

THE GLUMS

– is what the Mariner sees in Carper when he stops his story. Crinkly lines of melancholy envelope Carper’s face. Ol Tom senses sadness. He leaps – from Mariner’s shoulder to Carper’s. Licking the boy’s cheek caringly, he mewls, ‘AHEM, TURT. Little help here.’

Turt breaks his distracted gaze from a fish glowering up at him through the wharf-shack’s planked floor. Carper’s look mirrors Turt’s own sadness, when he thinks of Kunta or of his own foundling-shelling days. Turt trills soothingly and with beak-snout, pets Carper’s hand.

Laza Bones Thibidioux reaches from his wanted poster and grabs Harpoon. He points it at you. ‘I gotta use for this. I’ll be a seein’ you in a century or so boy. I’ll deal with YOU, then.’

Mariner takes sad Carper onto his lap.

THE GLUMS. Mariner’d seen it among fellow sailors: A blanket of fog that smothers, first mast, then souls. “Keep spirits up mates,” he’d say. “Soon we’ll port. There ya can breathe agin’.” ‘Til then, all Mariner could do was keep spinnin’ yarns, hopin’ some tale’d restart the sweet music of their hearts. For this young mate he’d do the same.

“None of those damnable, blue GLUMS, Carper. I know yer feelin bad. But ya hasta’ remember, as a foundlin’ ya come from a mighty proud line. Holy Moses! Could say, our likes date back ta times’ beginning.”

Mariner’s words stick, briefly, to Carper’s thoughts. Slowly, away they peel. So suddenly, so craw-wrenchingly, Carper feels he is spiraling down – alone, helpless – through a dark tunnel in his thoughts. These are the GLUMS. Mariner’s words are a net but Carper slips through. He reaches for Ol Tom’s paw and Turt’s fin-claw: in vain.

Laza Bones leaps from poster and shifts Harpoon away from you and toward Carper. He pokes at him. ‘Git you on down, down, and stays yaz der at de bottom, mon fishboy.’

You try to pull Laza Bones away from Carper but your arms slide right through him.

There is a lil’ Carper existing in Carper’s mind. Eeensy, so teensy. Carper knows, small though he is, he is mightier than all the bad Laza Bones’ of the world. So gently, but oh so forcefully Lil Carper whispers, ‘Listen to Mariner. Let his words be your line. Hold tight. Don’t fight when he reels you in.’

Mariner’s arm encompasses Carper’s waist. With other, he flails, animating the story he tells, about Kunta, “even as a little boy, so brave a boy, Kunta saved many lives though enslaved by the worst of GLUMS.” In Carper’s half-real – half-tunnel world, Mariner’s arm seems sword fending off Harpoon. The more he concentrates on Mariner’s tale, the further off Laza Bones Thibidioux drifts, until again he’s imprisoned in his poster.

Laza Bones poses handsome side out, as if he’s Honest Abe on the penny. ‘Who me? I wouldn’t harm a soul.’ He’s not fooling Carper, or James. Both know there’ll be a next time.

(Read more of Carper’s tale in the novel, Tales of Fiction House. 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.)

(Tales of the Fiction House ©2012  is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2015, 2017 Raji Singh

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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’ll never have 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)

 Welcome to our annual 4th of July parade 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 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.  They are completely different stories.  My novel is available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)

©2013 Raji Singh

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