THANKSGIVING AT THE HOME OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN’S NE’ER DO WELL BROTHER (a delicious holiday repast)

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 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 Thanksgiving!

Who knew we’d celebrate together by eating a bird once proposed as the symbol of America? A myth? But a delightful one! However, it is no myth that even joyful gatherings can have their edges. Let’s see how old Benjamin handled his?

   *     *     *

 For those of you who might suffer trepidation because of familial strife, we hope you remember the bonds that you all share.  And if that isn’t a comfort…remember you are not alone in your struggles.  Join us as Fiction House looks back, way back, to what our admired early American leader endured on a very early Thanksgiving…

*     *     *

The Ancient Mariner, the scruffy sea salt who raised my great-great grandfather, told this curious holiday story.  It’s been handed down for almost 250 years.  Enjoy!

*     *     *

“To the GOOD life!”  Benjamin Franklin toasts.  A dozen of Franklin’s relatives, and a spiffed up Mariner, all “clunk” tankards.  They gather in the Philadelphia home of Franklin’s half-brother Franklin Ulster.  The men, all finely dressed in vests and jackets:  The women, in best subtle gray long dresses.    

     Ulster’s already woozy having sneaked many-a-nip to help cope with Benjamin’s incessant boasts.

They give thanks, sit, pass the food, and eat steamy sweet potato, tart cranberry compote – all the usual, with all the sweet scents of banquet, but turkey.  No one would dare offer up Ben Franklin’s noble favorite creature, which he backs as the new nation’s symbol.

BETTER than any ale you’ve had, eh Ulster.”

The host limply nods.  On that, he must agree.

Franklin proudly thumps his chest and sniffs.  “A woodsy scent this batch has.  I must say, this is the BEST stump juice yet that Mariner and I have had the privilege of brewing.  Fitting nectar for the heroes of the Colonies who lie at rest in their Elysian Fields.  A place you shall need not worry of ever residing, being battle shy midst our Revolution.”

Ulster starts to defend his weapons merchant status, but his wife kicks his ankle under the table.  Brother-in-law Benjamin just might be convinced to float a loan to keep the creditors from the door.  The home, though not a hovel, is faked; garish below the surface.  Plaster of paris Louis XIV statues stand in for the real marble.  Sturdy walnut furniture is replaced with rickety pine lookalikes.

“Concerning our stump juice, as with all things in life, as I always say, Ben Franklin says, ‘Good, Better, Best.  Never let it rest.  Until the good is better and the better best.’  That’s what I always say,” Benjamin Franklin says.

“Oh you do,” Franklin Ulster challenges.  Ulster had pre-dinner fumed for an hour as the honored guest told of his Paris diplomatic exploits that help borne a new nation.  Now he’s caught brother braggart in a lie.  He maliciously spits out, “We both know those words you quote were written on the sign at Goode and Betty Bests Bakery when we we urchins.”

Benjamin squints down on Ulster through his bifocals, and calmly honeys a bun.

“And just who do you think sold them that adage.  Moi!  Mr. Ulster.  And for a pretty penny.  That coin built up through the decades made me the wealthy man I am today, Sir.  As I always say, ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’”

Franklin Ulster grits his teeth, but Benjamin Franklin is just beginning his pillorying.

“I am truly sorry your Shoppes and various ventures failed.  If only you’d listened to my sage brotherly advice instead of wagering at cockfights.  You could very well be in the financial position I reside.  So, there!  F.U.”

Some of the younger ladies at the table attempt to hide their eyes with their handkerchiefs.  Some matrons titter at the bawdy inference.  Elder statesman, Uncle Benjamin smiles pleasantly at each of them.

Ulster abruptly rises and his brass cock belt buckle upends his plate, sending his Thanksgiving fare down the front of his pants.  “Damn you, Ben.  My name is Franklin Ulster.  I demand the courtesy of being addressed as such in my own home.  Not being treated as some bastard kin.”

“My full apologies Franklin Ulster.  In amends, let me personally serve you the escargot I’ve made for our repast.”  Benjamin Franklin nods to Mariner and Mariner kindly returns the courtesy.  “The Mariner taught me his special recipe when we first met in Paris.  It was the talk of all the French society.  The grand chefs of the city paid my friend quite handsomely for his recipe.”  Franklin goes to a rickety sideboard, and gets a clean dinner plate.

Franklin Ulster impetuously grabs it.  “Snails we eat to appease the grand Doctor Franklin.”

Benjamin Franklin responds, “You’d not offer eagle to those who want it for our national symbol.”

Ulster spits out the crawly foreign fare after the first bite and throws the full plate against the wall.  It smashes into a dozen shards.  “I’m off to slaughter a turkey.”

Before he gets to the door, the normally talkative Mariner, who has been quite quiet throughout the afternoon, shouts, “I’ve ‘ad enough of yer performin’, mate.  Show yer respectins’ for the honored Doc Franklin, F.U.”  The wiry, but sturdy seaman quickly intercepts Ulster, and in seconds, from the long sea line he always has in his pocket, keel hauls him, and hangs him from a ceiling post beam.  There he dangles until a leisurely meal is complete.

~ ~ editor note:  (Keel haul – to tie line to each arm and hang from the bow of the ship.)

The accounts that various Franklins relate in memoirs and letters in the archives of Fiction House Publishing tend to back the overall story. The reader must take into consideration, the Mariner, known for his proclivity for tale telling, and this is his telling, after all – he may have embellished his part in the holiday affair.

You may read A Thousand And One more of Mariner’s tellings in Tales of the Fiction House.  ~ ~

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,

Raji

© Raji Singh 2012

(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 novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)

©2015 Raji Singh

©2018 Mark Rogers

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

A HALLOWEEN SPOOKER: THE DISPUTIN’ RASPUTINS OF THE HIGH SEAS (AND THEIR WALK-OFFS)

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 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)

Creepy stories abound this time of year! But have you ever been frightened of …toes? We hope you enjoy this tale unearthed from the tombs of the Fiction House, a Halloween re-treat.

*     *     *

The High Seas players:

The Pirates- a scurvy lot

Their Capt’n- a lice-ridden fiend

Captain Polly – Capt’n’s enslaved parrot

Turt- a good-natured land sea creature – almost a garnishment for the pirates’ meal

The Captives:  Buzzard, Mariner, R-r-rose Heather, Kunta- enslaved by the pirates.

The Walk-offs- The lopped off part of the foot, from the tip of the toe to ‘on back just a tad’.

(Buzzard is telling tall tales.  They mask the captives’ clandestine mutiny)

*               *               *

     Buzzard strokes the mast then pulls away with a dramatic flourish.  “Slick-as-a-badger, gents, Kunta slid down the mast, unseen by all but me.  Before I could get here to stop him, he tangled his feet ‘round the throat of your unsuspecting mate.  Wrung his neck.”

Buzzard invents as he tells.  By playing-into audience’s endless superstitions brought on by the fog and grog-life of the sea, he manipulates them into believers.

“Kunta’s the cunning deceiver that sliced out the Moroccan’s tongue.  Fed it to his ravenous Turt, who ingests our languages – to use against humans in the future,’ I’ll wager. [1]  That beak-snouted demon is heartless.  So Kunta cuts out the heart of the Algerian for him to devour while it beat.”

([1] Morrocan’s now a mute, driven mad by the cutting – so he can’t relay what really happened; that Mariner’s the slicer-dicer.)

‘A vile, contemptuous evil pervades the ship,’ thinks Captain Polly.  From her perch, she watches the sallow-faced crew.  Their attention never leaves Buzzard who is wending about the deck.  Parrot knows she must do something to save herself from the stealthy young badger-human Kunta and his shelled beast that her Buzzard warns of:  But, what?  With leg chained.  ‘Only hope,’ she thinks, is this dream-lover bird, Buzzard – but, ‘oh how to woo a human?’

“Kunta stalks,” Buzzard rails.  “LOPPING more walk-offs for his necklace; PLOPPING his victims overboard.  Some of the walk-offs are quick, devious.  They escape.  BEWARE!  These walk-offs gone-feral hate humans.  They lie in wait to destroy us.”

“What the Buzzard says gotta be true,” a pirate belly-aches to the others.  It’s after lunch.  They sit on crates near the railing – so they can vomit.  The Rasputin-of-the-word – Buzzard, his sly comrade Rasputin-of-the-poison, Mariner, has upped the dosage – just a smidgeon – so that the savvy-to-the-tricks-of-the-sea, dregs, don’t notice.  They think only, ‘the waves are having their way with gullets.’  They tremble continuously, and sweat so much that their raggedy limp clothes seem starched from saturating then drying so often.

(The poisons keep Capt’n stupor-fied.  The pentad of mutineers know he may prove an asset if alive.  One of them always guards him in his quarters turned prison.)

Crew’s superstitions beckon irrationality.  In their poison-induced hallucinations walk-offs come to life; stalk.  They begin believing they sail on what is becoming a ghost ship that may be overtaken anytime by the walk-offs.  As Buzzard spins his tale, the dregs mutter vows in a dozen languages, about skirting the mast after dark and keeping near the rail to avoid Kunta.

“That’ll never do,” Buzzard counters.  “Kunta and his shelled vampire straddle the ship’s sides, leaping on the unsuspecting.”  Dregs look warily over the rail, wishing for land.  It’s a thousand miles off.

The usually mawkish-squawkish Captain Polly is quiet.  ‘The monster walk-offs will see I am no dreg.  I will reason with them.  Teach them the humans’ many languages.  (Captain Polly knows at least a dozen.)  Oh so valuable I can be.’  None of Captain Polly’s self-assurances quells her horror of, while still alive, being plucked, de-beaked and de-clawed by Kunta and Turt.

When not stalking the deck with his flapping, Buzzard’s usually arguing in the galley with Mariner about the tactics of their tightly schemed mutiny.  But they agree, fully, with the results.

“How’d it get to this?” the crew whispers to each other.  “Turt’s curse, for ravaging his island for the shell and meat of his relatives?”  Others think hexing, by a tribal witch in retaliation for stealing Kunta.

Ominous signs of the walk-offs – stinking dried blood trails staining the deck – swell superstitions.  A once-tranquil voyage of plunder and pleasure is now, nightmare.  “Why’s our Capt’n keepin’ to quarters?  Even at his sickliest, he’s stayed the deck wielding his whip.  Why’s he issuein’ orders through Buzzard?”

Buzzard, in this short time, seems to have been elevated to acting Captain.  Many pirates are loyal to him – ‘only way to survive’ – as they struggle to man-the-ship to get close to land.

THE TALE OF MAMA L’S SECRET SLICKENS

Mariner, allowed enough chain to come up for daylight, listens to Buzzard’s tales from the galley doorway.  Captain Polly watches Mariner wipe fish blood from cleaver onto his neck-to-knee apron.  In futility, she gnaws her chain, wary of the time he might want her for a ‘fixin’.  From the first meal, he cooked – it smelled sweet as any Amazonian jungle cuisine –

– pirates shoveled it in.  When they spooned some into Captain Polly’s bucket, she sniffed, recognizing ingredients humans cannot.  (plants from Leezian’ bayou; recipes, come courtesy of Mama Lucy.)  Flying over the ‘Big Easy’ Captain Polly had seen their effect on critters.  They went battier than during a Gone Luna.  So now, Captain Polly is subsisting on the array of bugs flying close to her perch.  ‘Oh,’ growls Captain Polly’s stomach, ‘but to fly free of this ship.’

Mariner found the slickens – kegs of North Africa’s plants, almost cousins to poisonous Leezian’ claw-root and twig-lick – during his first day in the galley.  “One dasha’ claw banish evil spirits.”  Creviced old Mama Lucy had ‘scienced-up’ Mariner in her cabin’s kitchen-lab.  “Cure most ills.  Two dasha’ twig cures yer patient of inflictin’ devils.  Three-’a-each, ‘n the devil escape; slitheren’ inta another ta inhabitate.”

Mariner always uses two-and-a-half, insuring deferred insanity.  He can’t give three to finish the job – crew’s needed to get ship to shore.  If it appears madness may arrive before land, he lessens the dose.  For Buzzard, Rrrose Heather, her ladies and himself he prepares simpler fare.  For Capt’n, who killed most of Mariner’s dear friends from the commandeered ship, Mariner prepares meals with another cousin-berry – the dung-flower.

“Gaarente-ad’,” Mama’ll testify.  “Tuz cause most-vile hallucinatin’, yea inde-ad’.”

Mariner looks from Buzzard, who is finishing a tale, and glances at Captain Polly.  She imagines he’s saying, “Ready to join yer Capt’n, Captain?”  She gnaws shackle even more desperately.

TALE OF A SAIL

“Hoist starboard keel.  Set jig-rigging north, northwest.”  Buzzard mangles the orders of the ‘silent-Captain’, Mariner, rendering them illogical.  Doesn’t matter; bedraggled crew sails by rote.  No doubt, Rasputin-Buzzard steers the emotions of fear; Rasputin-Mariner helms the mayhem triggering it.

TALE OF HOW THE WALK-OFFS ‘REALLY’ CAME ABOARD

Late at night:  Cleaver descends.  “WHAP!”  A piercing scream, ‘THUMPS’, of running.  Scream stops with watery “PLOP”!  Someone yells:  “MAN OVERBOARD.”  In the shadows, Mariner wipes cleaver clean and oysters-out slimy walk-off from the tip of leather shoe.

All the crew now wears shoes.  ‘Does ‘em little good,’ Mariner grins.

From her manacled spot near the helm, Captain Polly quivers midst a new revelation:  ‘New Cookie’s got a key.  He can come for me anytime.’

Mariner eases back to the galley and re-shackles himself.  He stows walk-offs in the Capt’n’ humidor.  In a few days, as just another small way to nudge Capt’n closer to insanity, he’ll have Rrrose deliver it to Capt’n’ new quarters – a six by six dungeon-like room, rancid from 50 years of storing smoked mackerel.

Capt’n sleeps constantly, awakens only to his own screams caused by hallucinogenic dreams of sea creatures devouring him alive – more of the effects from Mariner and Mama’s ‘slickens’.

THE TALE OF A ‘GOOD’ LIFE FOR SOME

Buzzard, Rrrose Heather, and the ladies they now occupy Capt’n’ plush quarters.

“You’ll live with the bloody walk-offs throughout hell’s eternity,” Rrrose Heather, veiled as fortune tellers Capt’n always visited when in ports, soothsays to him – her personal revenge for what he’s done to she and her ladies.  She leaves the humidor with him in his dungeon.

THE TALE OF A ‘WORSE’ LIFE FOR OTHERS

Midst hot-cold sweats, Capt’n removes lid and reaches for a cigar.  The slimy walk-offs feel like jellyfish, their stench, worse than the rancid mackerel.  He pushes humidor.  Contents spill.  His eyes widen as hallucinations spiral into a parade of the moldy gray-green walk-offs tip-toeing to come choke him.  Too paralyzed to move, he screams, continuously, curdling-ly.  

     Reverberations echo through ship and shake the mast.  Crew looks up at the sails, expecting to see Kunta and his monster, their arms, fin-claws stretched in victory sign to show that they now control the ship.

Buzzard swoops from the ship’s wheel.  What to expect?  He is sure he’ll find Capt’n, dead.

Captain Polly hops on the wheel to steady the ship as Capt’n has trained her for times when an automatic parrot is necessary.  Though she loathes Capt’n, she feels pangs of sorrow.  That lasts just seconds.  She sings in an ecstatic combination of a half-dozen languages.  “Blow the man down, mate.  Blow the man down.  You gave us time, we blew the man down.”

The crew doesn’t share her joy.  If Capt’n is dead, hope for survival is with Buzzard.

‘Who will be at his mercy?’  Many silently vow ‘to become his slave if he protects them from Kunta and Turt.’  Captain Polly’s had enough of being a chained slave.  She has another idea.

Buzzard returns to the wheel, relieved that Rrrose’s act of revenge hasn’t killed Capt’n.  Captain Polly hops to his shoulder, brushes plumage sensually against his neck, gently nibbles ear, coos, “Lover bird.  Loverbird.  I’ll be true to you.”

© 2012 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.  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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GOBLINS IN YOUR DESK DRAWER

(Previously posted on Pen in Hand)

By Raji Singh

Calico in a frantic flight from the goblins (©2013  Image by Joseph Rintoul)

Calico in a frantic flight from the goblins (©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

October Horrors Await!  Some fear ghosts, skeletons, even neighborhood elves with hungry eyes and empty trick-or-treat bags.  But writers…that is altogether different.  Here’s an old favorite from dusty Fiction House files.  Happy Hallooooooooween!

*     *     *

Writers beware.  Word and sentence gobbling goblins may live in your desk drawer.

Writers, be prepared:  You with manuscripts years, or maybe decades old are most at risk!  They don’t seem to attack recent works.  You may find your old masterpieces decimated, as much so as if you wrote them on oak blocks and ravenous termites discovered them.

The goblins perform quite thorough jobs of editing.  Your book, short story, screenplay may be as unrecognizable, as if studio hacks were charged with re-writes via committee.

I discovered this fact, when deciding to dust off and review my ‘TRUE MASTERPIECE’ of a few years back.  Multiple agents and editors didn’t recognize the genius story line, character developments, plot twists, and overall grandeur of the work at the time I queried them.  So I’d put it aside.

‘Strange,’ I thought removing my paper copy from its dusty wrapping to re-familiarize myself.  ‘What’s this?  This word wasn’t misspelled way back when.  Hey, this sentence doesn’t make any sense.’

What’s up?  I knew exactly what I meant to say, and I said it, when I wrote this.

Something’s wrong!  Page after page I, first peruse, and then intently study.  Words are missing, participles dangling, adjectives inconsistently jangling, images incoherently tangling.

What’s this?  Even my main character changing his name, eye color, even sex, and then chameleon-like becoming who he was in time for the BIG denouement.

There is only one explanation:  Those hobbling, gobbling goblins of time.  My masterpiece – reduced to gnarled waste paper:  All because those tiny-vision agents and editors couldn’t see the grand scale of my work.  If not for them, my work would be on bookshelves throughout the literate world, there for Humankind to learn from, and, help bring peace and harmony to all.   Published and safely ensconced and shining on bookshelves, my masterwork would have been safe from the dusty desk drawer goblins of time. 

     C’ est la vie.

I’ll go through the book again.  And again.  The world is waiting.

Maybe, a good lesson to other writers?  Put your writing aside for a few weeks, not more than a few months, if even that, but most certainly, not a few years.  A SHORT interval of time will give you a fresh, clear perspective on it.

Never, ever put it aside for years, or you too may start believing in goblins.

I bid adieu wishing you happy writing, and as importantly, happy meticulous rewriting.      

(Enjoy Raji Singh’s whimsical slice of life tales and vignettes  at Tales of the Fiction House.com  You can buy his novel, Tales of the Fiction House- a completely different story- at Amazon)

©Raji Singh 2013, 2022

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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.)

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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 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

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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