YOU WILL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT, RAJI — A LINDIAN CHRISTMAS LESSON

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)

I hope you’ll enjoy this Christmas tale from Fiction House Publishing’s book, The Seasons of My Giving Back, by Mark Rogers.  Happy Holidays!

*     *     *

Chapter 6

YOU WILL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT, RAJI – A LINDIAN CHRISTMAS LESSON

Just like the bespectacled Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story, as a youngster I yearned for a Red Ryder BB gun.  Growing up in Cincinnati’s Lindian community – not big meat eaters or hunters – no one truly listened when I said I wanted this.

I dreamed of making grand safaris into the magical, mysterious Woods not far from home. Many long hours I’d spend in congratulating myself, ‘You will be giving back to your beloved Cincinnati by helping keep it safe.’

“With my Red Ryder…” quite often I excitedly boasted to a kindly, yet unsympathetic old Uncle or Auntie.  “…I could fortress in the wilds and protect the city from errant tigers.”

They’d reply, all the while laughing gently at their own impromptu humor.  “Pshaw!  Precious Raji.  50,000 Bengals fill the football stadium every other week.  You could never keep enough BB’s in stock.”

Then these wizened elders, the tiny bells on their sarongs jingling, the beads on their shirts beating as they jiggled from the laughter, would add something like, “Cobra and Mongoose from our homeland have yet to find a way to traverse the oceans.  So we need no protection from them.  What then remains, Dear Boy, for you to save us from – the furry little rabbits and squirrels?  They are not so vicious.”SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Then, just as Ralphie’s teacher, his mother, and even Santa replied to Ralphie, the Uncles and Aunties guffawed to me, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

But Ralphie’s fa, ‘the old man’, had a Red Ryder when he small.  He surprised Ralphie with the pump-style air rifle on Christmas.

An equally understanding – at least, seemingly, at the time, old Uncle came forward for me on my Christmas.  He always dressed nattily, in starched, pressed cotton pants, and a vest over a dhoti shirt white as his wavy hair.  Every glance, every eye flicker, and every movement of his lean body professed to the world his philosophy of life: ‘To stand on ceremony is the duty of all.’  (He must have come from generations of British Colonial influence.)

The BB gun –

He presented it to me as ceremoniously as if he had been a Royal Brigade officer back in Lindia, and he was pinning a medal of valor on my jacket.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I remember vividly to this day standing as if frozen briefly in time, a new recruit in front of Colonel Uncle.  The lofty emotions I felt – They are indelibly imprinted in my thoughts: That day…That day…  

The Red Ryder isn’t shiny and new like Ralphie’s.  The wood stock is worn and faded.  Nicks, gouges, and dents tattoo the tarnished barrel.  But I feel just as lucky as Ralphie.

I run my fingers over the cold steel and splintered wood.  All my childhood senses absorb the ardor of battle my Red Ryder must have encountered over the decades.  I smell the decaying rot of defeated cobras saturating the stock.  I can almost taste the dank of the fur of a charging tiger, “brought down by just a single BB”, I imagine someone bragging over ale at a bistro.

As if it were a seashell, I put my ear to the barrel hole.  Instead of ocean, I hear the calamitous trumpeting of a herd of elephants scared away from an isolate village’s garden, and back into the jungle.  I stroke the splintered teeth marks of a vicious mongoose that tore wildly into the weapon before being subdued.

After a ceremonious pat on the shoulder from crater-faced old Uncle and the even more ceremonious statement, “Now go forth young Gamesman” –

Into the Woods, I foray, to take my place among the tribe of humankind known as, Intrepid Hunter.

Welcome to the Lindian Woods Where I Was Found (Image ©2014 Raji Singh

Welcome to the Lindian Woods Where I Was Found
(Image ©2014 Raji Singh

I dribble a handful of copper BBs into the holding chamber.  I pump the cocking handle.  I take aim skyward, at Poppy Sol.  He glares, reprimanding me with a stinging ray.

So I move my point, toward a gluttonous cloud.  ‘I’ll pop that belly.’

I feel like Papa Hemingway readying to bag his first Rhino.  My hands sweat as I pull the trigger.

The loudest cannon fire BANG!

That is what I expect.

A…phht!  is what I get.

The BB arcs like a rainbow, for not more than 20 feet.  I see where it goes…toward the pond…toward the rubbery lily pad where the Frog Brothers, Frer and Brer, rrriibiit on about the daily news of the Woods.

Plink. 

The BB lands between them, breaking their conversation, and then it bounces off, plunking into the water.  Their sudden stares and immediate deep CRROOAAKS indicate they mock me.

‘There’s that Raji kid again.  The one who almost shot his eye out with the slingshot, last week,’ says Frer.

‘A nuisance he can sometimes be,’ replies Brer, sticking his tongue out at me and simultaneously nabbing a fly.

In unison, they croak loudly, ‘You’ll shoot your eyes out, kid!’

Again and again my shame heightens among the Woods inhabitants as the velocity of the BBs lessen with each shot.

(Seems the relic Red Ryder can’t hold the charge of hand pumped air for more than a few seconds.  But I wouldn’t discover that cold fact until later in life.)

Another shot strays into the water, splashing between a circle of ten napping otters, who hold hands as otters outta whilst sleeping, to keep from floating away from each other.  Seemingly, one at a time their eyes open and they berate me for disturbing their slumber.  ‘You’ll shoot your…’  I get a feeling they’re readying to turn together on their sides, like a wheel, and roll over the water to chase me from their Woods.

I quickly scamper to a meadow where birds are singing joyously.  I shoot the Red Ryder skyward.

POP!

The singing abruptly ends and the birds scatter.  Out of nowhere, the Woods Sky Patroller, Hawk, barrels in from out of nowhere, grabs the BB mid air, flies, just feet over my head, and flings it down hitting me on the head.

“Ouch.”

That is the fastest one of the projectiles flew that day, or would ever again fly from that dilapidated Red Ryder.

‘Never do that again,’ I know is Hawk’s plaintiff cry.  Hawk eyes me viciously and then missiles out of sight.

Sigh!  I guess I may now know just why we Lindians are no hunters.  Likely, we’d starve.

O.K., I will shoot at trees.  Not one barks at me as I take aim.  So I fire.  Relic Red Ryder suddenly takes on a life of its own – but unfortunately, it is in the form of a death gasp.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

The BB spits weakly from the barrel, barely going two feet before it drops.

I hear a screech.  In animal parlance, I believe it means – “Hey, whattaya think yer doin!”

I look down, just as the BB bounces off the head of a rabbit, then ricochets as the little fella jerks its head.  The BB flies five feet horizontally, and nearly takes out the eye of a squirrel.

The rabbit’s screech, the squirrel’s angry, loud ‘CHHIIRRP!’ tells me, “Run, Raji!!  Like your life depends on it.”

As angry as the critters sounded, I am sure my life really did.  (Harmless creatures, as Uncles and Aunties claimed; Hhrmph!)

The squirrel and rabbit give chase.  They’re on my heels, snapping, grr-ing, for hundreds of yards, until I am well clear of the Lindian Woods and onto a city street.

I near my Lindian neighborhood, out of breath, and I see my ceremonious old Uncle.  He is sitting cross-legged, on a small rug under a Lindian Fan Tree.  It is as if he has been waiting, patiently, for me. “And how went the hunt, young Raji?”

Wait, is that what some would call a ‘knowing smile’ that slightly crescents his face.

I return the gun as ceremoniously as it was given to me.  I summon enough breath to say, “Take it Uncle.  Never bring it back.  No matter how careful, it’s only a matter of time, before, I shoot my eye out.”SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Thank you, Uncle, for giving back to me, of course not only my eye before I might lose it, but also the simple importance of respecting our feathered flyer, slick swimmer, and furry four-leg friends.

(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 Mark Rogers

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

SUPERMOON, LUNY MUM IN HOLIDAY FINERY

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)

Tonight is your first and last chance of 2017 to see a Supermoon, Luny Mum in all her glory! She, the story-teller’s muse, will appear again in January…and give us an eclipse at the same time!

We at The Fiction House are impassioned by Supermoons, so here is one of our favorite posts from  The Seasons of My Giving Back by Mark Rogers.

Look up tonight, next month, and enjoy your inspiration!

*     *     *

OF SUPERMOONS, SCUPPERNONGS AND SUMMER

The blissful harvest of all our autumn experiences yet-to-come: Quietly it approaches.

I hope your fall is bountiful as was my first Lindian road kill crew summer of giving back. The yield from that time, a blaring brass band of the warmest of memories, preserves in my heart.

Almost every night of the remainder of that summer after I return home to Cincinnati, the starry sky and twinkling fireflies light the Singh family pathway that leads from the Fiction House Medical Clinic and into the nearby Woods.

Mother, Fa, and I take strolls – just as millions of other families do – after supper and before dessert. For many the repast is watermelon, ice cream, or pie. For us, it is Scuppernong grapes. They grow wild near the pond.

This is a time of evening for us to converse about our day while we feast on the tantalizing fruit of the vine. Our senses bombard us at once. The sweet pulp of the Scuppernongs plays gently across our taste buds.

Mother smiles and says, “It’s like a piano concerto and your tongue is the keyboard.”

The tart of the grapes’ thick skin, as its scent wafts into our nostrils, mixing with the damp of the Woods, seems to calm us.

“Feel your chest,” Mother says, putting her delicate hands to her blouse. “It makes your heart beat soft and slow, as if you’ve entered deep slumber.”

cover the seasons of my giving backWho can hear the squish of the grape you bite into, against the cacophony of nature?

The Frog Brothers, Frer and Brer, from atop their bachelor lily pad, romance the lovely Toad Sisters on the shore with their ribbit, ribbit chorus.

The Ten Otters of the pond gently slap the water as they stare skyward.

Turt is trumpeting a Satchmo rift.

Crickets come out from hiding beneath leaves and join Turt’s serenade.

Though a breeze is slight, there are small waves on the pond. I cannot contain myself. I jump about excitedly.

“Hey, look everybody. The grasshoppers are surfing on the water.”

We look at the water world. The grasshoppers are actually ‘Hanging Ten’, (or however many a hopper has to hang).

Just then, all becomes eerily quiet as a broad shadow passes above us.

I squeeze Fa’s hand, probably remembering a similar occurrence from some little-boy nightmare.

Mother pulls me close. I feel her tremble and I grasp her. Is some vulture-like apparition circling above us?

Suddenly we hear a shout.

“Look up, you Singhs.”

Instinctively we do.

Wheh! Relief. It is Captain Polly flying overhead.

Mother calls, “Why did you scare us, Captain Polly?”

Captain Polly doesn’t answer. She squawks loud. “Aaarrk. See how close Luny Mum is, Singhs. She wants to say hello. In a big way.”

All the creatures of the Woods peer skyward. We follow their glance, leaving our own little world, and our own worldly concerns.

Ahh! Luny Mum’s way of giving back.

We enter her celestial wonder. There she floats, bigger than any of us ever remember seeing her. Her beams overwhelm the Woods, and turn the pond sheet white, like milk. We look at her through the clusters of grapes we hold, and it is as if she is gowned in the most beautiful shades of purple and red.

Neither Mother, Fa, nor I can speak. We can only enjoy the spectacle of light prisms our orb provides us.

I can almost hear Luny Mum speak to me as when I was an orphan foundling and had only she, Turt and Poppy Sol for my friends.

‘I am glad you brought your family to see me, Raji. From now on, I’ll help look after them, as I did you.’

Of course, science disputes the magic of the moment I am feeling.

We are seeing a Supermoon, the first of three this year. Technically, my Luny Mum is a “perigee moon’. Mum is massive, and extra bright, because she is about 50,000 kilometers closer than her regular full moon self, an “apogee”.

All science aside, to me Luny Mum and Poppy Sol are living celestial entities, just two of the few friends any orphan foundling creates in his or her imagination so we are not alone in a cold world.

My perigee Mum would visits many times that year.

She watches with Mother and Fa, as I discover the joys of spitting Scuppernong seeds.

‘He’ll shoot my eye out if he achieves any more distance or accuracy,’ Luny Mum laughs. She eyes Mother squeezing Scuppernong juice into a pitcher of lemonade. ‘Mmm! I can just taste it, Raji.’

Mother pours the mix into glasses, which we raise.

“Here’s to Luny Mum,” we toast.

“May everyone appreciate her brightness tonight!” Fa adds.

I remember seeing on TV, that people all over the world can see our Super Mum – from outside the Taj Mahal, atop Eiffel Tower, alongside the Pyramids at Giza, beside the Great Wall of China – all they have to do is look up.

*   *   *

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

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

One night while we were ‘Scuppernoning’, my butterfly friend Calico flitted by to visit us.

She seemed to hover in the sky for hours. Luny Mum’s brightness shone through the multi-colors of her wings. The Woods and pond became an effervescent rainbow glow.

The eyes of all the Woodland creatures turned from red to orange to blue to green and back, over and again. Anyone lucky enough to be moseying the Woods at that time would have been treated to a light display more dazzling than any Fourth of July fireworks show.

Thank you Luny Mum, for a summer the Singhs and billions of others will never forget.

(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.)

©2015, 2017  Mark Rogers

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

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

By Raji Singh

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Latest from The Fiction House. A Parrot’s Delight!

We at the Fiction House are proud to announce the latest tales from The Fiction House, a feast of fables from our feathery friend, Captain Polly. We hope you enjoy Captain Polly’s Lore of the Lindian Woods, a bird’s eye view of the Lindian Woods and the creatures who live there, The Frog Brothers, The Ten Otters, Toad Sisters, Ollie the Octopus, and Turt.

     *     *     *

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)

 

 

 

 

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 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

©2017 Mark Rogers

 

Posted in Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, Uncategorized, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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)

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 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

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

THE FROG BROTHERS MEET TURT

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)

Lore of the Lindian Woods as observed by aerialist and oral storyteller Captain Polly. 

As squawked to Raji Singh       

When last we saw the Frog Brothers atop the tattooed rock…

They were leaping from the clutches of the half-gator/half-human monster tattoo image called Laza Bones. The sunlight had brought the drawing to life. But, quite sadly, the Frogs jumped right toward the wide-open beak-snout, sharp as a razor; of a shelled creature.  They’d never seen the likes of him.  Ever.

The creature snatches Brer and Frer Frog. (And now we’re caught-up.)

                                *     *     *

The beak-snout closes and holds them tight.  The Brothers feel squished. They peek out.  They see a large fin-claw belonging to the creature. It reaches up and slaps Laza Bones flat as a monstrous lily pad.

The pancaked, ‘grrring’ monster squirms, trying to re-inflate himself. The creature spits out Brer and Frer, right atop that mad pad. They edge quickly away from it. Before they can hop to safety, the fin-claw moves. It hovers over them. They cannot move.

Frer realizes. ‘We’re not on a rock at all.’ He whispers to Brer. “We’re on the creature’s shell, Brother.”

The creature rises up and now three more fin-claws show. Its strange beak-snout moves, until its sleepy blue eyes are inches from the Frog Brothers.

“Don’t leap away, Fellows. I’m Frog friendly.” He removes his fin-claw from above them.

Brer and Frer stand up – half scared-half intrigued. Brer is brave, or tries to appear so. His glare meets the creature’s stare. “Aren’t you afraid that we greenies may eat you?”

Laughter blares from the beak-snout. The trumpeting sound is sweet, but the breath smells sour.

“Ooh,” Brer whispers to Frer. The Brothers try not to flinch. “He eats raw fish.”

“My name’s Turt,” says the creature as he starts to mosey toward the Lindian Woods.

Welcome to the Lindian Woods (Image ©2014 Raji Singh

Welcome to the Lindian Woods
(Image ©2014 Raji Singh

“The pond is lovely there, so I hear. I’ll just bet that’s where you were heading.” All the while Turt is telling Brer and Frer this, his beak-snout remains frightfully near them. The Brothers have no thoughts about trying to hop away – this shellster is too quick. “What are your names, Friends?” Turt asks.

“We’re the Frog Brothers. He is Brer. I am Frer.” The Brothers lose some of their fear. Still they feel leery about the monster carved into Turt’s shell.

Turt senses the wise caution. He informs them. “That’s Laza Bones. He’s one of the meanest creatures to walk the earth and swim the seas. I must flatten him now and then to keep him from doing his mischiefin’.”

“Where did all the pictures on your shell come from?” Frer casually asks. He wants to remain on Turt’s good side, his friendly side.

“I travel the world. Many two-legs, and many creatures also, they like to leave their mark on me. If I like them, I let them. If I don’t, I let them know. I’ll show you how.” He trumpets a vicious growl, but considerately aims it over the Brothers’ heads.

Still they flinch.

Turt feels bad for scaring them and for his saliva that rains down on them. They aren’t about to risk any quick movements to wipe the sliminess away. To try to let them know he is really, truly friendly he says, “If you want, I’ll let you draw on me.”

Brer says boldly. “You’re awfully big for a turtle.”

“I’m like a turtle, but I’m called a Trumpeter.” Turt notices that the Frogs keep staring over toward Laza Bones. Their expression of anger, almost hate of the he/it is the same as was Turt’s, when he first noticed the he/it scarring his shell when he craned his neck and saw the he/its tattoo for the first time. Turt is sure, that like so many animals, Frer and Brer too must have had bad experiences with Laza Bones. “The he/it is no friend of mine, Dear Brothers. He carved his picture into me while I slept. The reason I don’t scratch it out: So others will see and realize that such evils crawl and slither the earth. Beware!”

Calico…We’d much rather see her than Laza Bones! (©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

Turt suddenly rap, rap, raps his beak-snout against Laza Bones’ squashed picture.

Laza Bones groans, and Frer and Brer hear his muffled threat, “I’ll get you Turt.  Just you wait.”

Turt looks away from the Frogs – to give them a chance to hop away if they wish. He says to himself. “I hope they won’t. I like the little guys with their bold curiosity.” Turt sniffs the air, smelling the sweet fruit of the Forest they are coming to. He smiles: Because Frer and Brer don’t hop away.

They’ve become too anxious to introduce Turt to all their friends in the Lindian Woods. And so they too may see close up the dangers of the Laza Bones’ of the world.

“Just think,” Brer says to Frer. A real Laza Bones could saunter into the Lindian Woods. All the while, they pretend to be friends. All the while they’re scheming.”

Turt’s smile crescents even more. Two new friends has he made today. Maybe soon a whole lot more at the Woods and in the pond. “At least the Laza Bones of the world won’t bother anyone in the Lindian Woods, Brer and Frer,” Turt says. “Not while I am around.”

Turt reaches into a pocket of his shell for pencils he always carries.  He gives them to new friends so they could leave their mark on him.

(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

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

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

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

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