Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Note from the Author - The Superbas Have Moved

I'm making an effort to consolidate all my content.
The Return of the Superbas, The Magic Circus, and all my other writings will now reside at

Goodbye blogger...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chapter 8 - The Travelers

We achieved a semblance of peace, a self-sufficient little society.

Most were resigned to living out their days this way.

It was a classic feudal system, with our family serving as beneficent lords and masters. In any socio-political system; however, you will have dissidents. There was a small group that insisted on exploring, heading out to see if they could find other survivors, other breeders – for there was still some procreation going on.

Very limited, and impossibly indiscriminate, there was no rhyme or reason as to why some people were fertile and others were not.

The low birth numbers made for a class of pampered young like you wouldn’t believe. They were treated with such care and concern you’d have thought they were kings or gods, which, in a sense, they were.

They were our hope.

The numbers grew smaller and older, it was becoming obvious that we needed to listen to the dissidents and head further abroad to expand the gene pool.

One bold expedition discovered an outpost across the Rockies, a nomadic tribe living off feral cows and buffalo, much the same way Plains Indians did for hundreds of years several hundred years ago.

Our concept of time changed, the span of Old Era existence now looked brief.

Native people ceded to outside interlopers for what, 200 years, then western “civilization” and its industrialized way of life was gone. In the blink of an eye.

We were looking generations ahead whereas before we looked quarters, life in 3-month increments. It seems so myopic now, so, well, short-sighted.

These new natives, however, weren’t native at all. Their diet consisted almost entirely of animal flesh, as such they were violent and none-too-healthy. For awhile they were able to thrive because they still had ammunition and could easily outgun the competition.

Bullets didn’t make themselves, though, and lately their aim had been hit and miss at best.

Increasing numbers of carnivores and the stress of living hand-to-mouth was taking its toll. Attrition was high, off-spring few and at risk. They had young girls, though, and an arrangement was made to move the lot of them into our compound. They were more than ready for a change.

The addition of the Plains Folks augmented our breeding stock somewhat and they had acquired some hunting skills, which we honed and put to good use. So, they were very welcome, but it still wasn’t going to be enough.

Our Travelers would go out again. They had a similar experience during a southern expedition. In what was California, probably somewhere in Los Angeles or San Diego county, a group had survived along the coast.

The Boat Folk had found a sheltered area, well-protected by natural defenses, a cliff on one side, water on the other. They lived off the sea, mastering the construction and use of small boats from which they fished, and which also served as something of a religious icon.

Their old boats stood in rows along the beach like the heads on Easter Island.

Their culture, during the time in which it had to develop, in the time it took to devolve or evolve from what their recent ancestors called culture, was based on a worship of the sea as the provider of all life.

They weren’t very intelligent, the Boat Folk, or even very industrious, spending large portions of their free time surfing and lounging on the beach. Despite their love of the sea and sun, it wasn’t too hard to convince them of the benefits of moving to the Pacific Northwest and consolidating our tribes. There was extra motivation for us because their females were hot, that is to say, very attractive.

There was, by the way, nothing that said just because a woman couldn’t procreate she wouldn’t fornicate.

It was as the first New Era generation aged that we realized, that we surmised, we still did not have a sustainable gene pool.

Years of debate followed, interspersed with farming and copious amounts of golf on our two golf courses. We were like a retirement community from the era before, a bunch of old people playing golf in a gated compound. Some people called themselves the Decimation Angels, others referred to the compound as Aging Acres or the Final Farm – dark humor was a survival technique.

Discussions often turned to likely areas of continued human habitation, survival would require a temperate climate (or the means to survive the intemperate), readily available food sources, and safety from the animals.

The North American southeast seemed a likely spot for migration. We couldn’t count on agriculture still being practiced in the Midwest, the industrial farms that had been there weren’t exactly sustainable, and the Plains Folks seemed to think that was a dead end. Plus, after making the trek over the Cascades and the Rockies, no one wanted to do it again.

There were two camps within The Travelers.

One advocated heading south, returning to the Boat Folk encampment, replenishing supplies and then heading east to the Gulf of Mexico following the coast to Florida and then points up the eastern seaboard. We were skeptical about the possibility of large groups surviving the harsh northeast winters, yet the further north they could go the better chance they had to reach their ultimate destination.

There were those that believed if they could make camp for the winter say in New Jersey, wait for the spring, decamp, and get to Nova Scotia, they would be able to complete a trans-Atlantic voyage to Europe. The Vikings did it the other way around, and they weren’t even sure what the hell awaited them on the other side.

Some were growing increasingly desperate. We were talking about the survival of our species. Others, though, simply didn't care.

The second group was in agreement about the first leg, the path south to the Boat Folk camp. The absence of new arrivals from the north led all of us to believe Alaska was another dead end.

If there had been encampments in Asia and they contemplated a repeat voyage across the Bering Strait, they either deemed it too dangerous or died trying. Regardless, nobody was particularly interested in heading north of Puget Sound.

The second camp wanted to go further south, explore Central America, cross the isthmus of Panama, head down the east coast of South America and then encamp on the easternmost tip of Brazil to prepare for a trans-Atlantic crossing to Africa.

There was a certain primal logic to this idea, Africa being the cradle of all our ancestors. If we started there before maybe we could start there again.

As you might imagine these were momentous life or death decisions. We couldn’t make them overnight.

Plus, there was great golf to be played.

A guy who had worked for Jack Nicklaus had trained a new breed of greenskeepers capable of mastering links course management.

Traversing continents and oceans seemed a tad daunting compared to a peaceful loop around a beautiful golf course.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chapter 7 - Doing the Eagles' Bidding

That explained where The Cat came from. I don’t recall exactly what they told me, but I certainly was, as any six-year-old would be, curious. One day, no cat; the next, a ubiquitous cat. White as snow, pampered and pompous, and not exactly friendly, that cat reigned the world in smarmy silence.

I always knew my father as an exceptionally busy man, never harried mind you, but consistently occupied. He usually had something to do and was frequently in his office through the night. I’d wake up to find my father in the kitchen making a pot of coffee wearing the same clothes he’d worn the day before.

And, lingering around him, The Cat. Not always next to him, perhaps in the next room, usually within earshot.

In my father’s basement office, which he kept locked, I could hear voices, and always assumed he was on the phone. On the phone at odd hours, certainly, but then he had business contacts throughout Asia, Africa and Europe, as well as the Americas.

Now, I believe, I can see him plainly in conversation with that damn cat. As an inquisitive youngster I frequently hovered outside his office door, listening, and, there was one voice that didn’t sound like it came from a speaker phone.

There were manifold psychological effects caused by the massive reduction in births. The primary example was Lars Engvold the scientist who played the key role in developing The Test. Our best seller.

He had gone stark raving mad and shot himself in the head.

My father and I went to the Swedish microbiologist’s Brussels office to try to locate any remaining clue to the research he’d done. By that time it was clear that something had gone terribly wrong. The scientist’s son explained to us how his father had slowly deteriorated.

He spent hours, entire days just staring at the desolate cityscape.

He burnt all his medical journals in the garden and then turned that plot into his lavatory.

He started filing things in nearly incoherent or oddly coherent ways.

For example, he would group items together by shape, so round flat things were put in one place, which led to plates, CDs, petri dishes, Frisbees, all stacked together in one cupboard.

Rectangular items, of course included papers, his research and important correspondences, at least the non-digital form. These were together; however, they weren’t filed alphabetically, but rather by color, and not just the color of the paper, sometimes a color would be mentioned in the paper or sometimes the contents of a letter inspired a certain mood and these were filed accordingly.

“Articles delineating the decline in population and the adverse effects were filed in a pile of ‘blue’ papers because they made him blue, but he was growing black, he then got really dark,” said his son. “His last few weeks, he was almost entirely incomprehensible. He would mutter and mumble and stumble drunk around his lab, tinkering clumsily with nonsensical experiments, his staff long gone, either dead or moved to the country.”

In the countryside around most cities, or even within cities where arable land was now available (there were vegetable gardens in every corner of Central Park) communes of various sizes were sprouting up.

These were the best sources of food and comfort as cities quickly turned into eerie, barren, unpopulated danger zones. People were generally kind and cooperative as nearly everyone was old and frail, the danger came from the collapsing infrastructure.

Consider this fairly obvious fact: 70 years after the epidemic began there was almost no one under the age of 70. Who was there to tear down crumbling buildings, who was there to dismantle bridges, tunnels, gas stations?

There were potential hazards everywhere.

The good news, if you can call it good news was that there was no electrical grid, people used car batteries and whatever solar and wind power they could generate, but there weren’t live wires coursing through vacant buildings.

Anyway, we spent weeks with the scientist’s son trying to make sense out of his father’s rambling notes, and digging through his research trying to find any evidence that what he’d been working on could rectify the situation or at least provide some solace, some hope for the future.

This came after we made our fortune.

At the outset, my father was ready and willing to do the eagles’ bidding.

"The Cat fed me information like so much kibble and nothing failed," wrote my father.

‘Buy into healthcare, pharmaceuticals,’ he purred, sitting behind his computer, a new green eyeshade back in place. So, I’d leverage myself to the hilt. It was a bet at first, sure, but what did I have to lose? I could listen to that fucking feline and take my chances or go to my wife and whoever would listen (or not) and tell them that I had been talking to eagles and cats about saving the planet by drastically reducing the human population.

It beat getting a real job.

We scored. Sales of early pregnancy tests skyrocketed, women just kept taking them and taking them hoping for a better result.

What’s that they say about insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.

Then we partnered with some doctors that were just going to market with a test that would determine fertility. First one for females, then one for males. We had damn near everyone in the civilized world buying those. At that point, we were set.

Wherever we turned we made money. Public companies selling baby-related merchandise we sold short. Laxatives, hemorrhoid treatments and the like, we went long.

I had a few bad ideas.

You may remember Waning Salons.

I figured with the slow elimination, or aging of the population, vanity would diminish. I thought there could be an industry around pampering those aging.

Real estate prices were plummeting.

Nail and beauty salons, all the places where people used to go to make themselves feel pretty, get facials, wax those unsightly moustaches and bikini lines, etc…well, I thought they would be the perfect outlet for more practical treatments.

I suppose it was me acting out on the overwhelming guilt I felt, a way of providing some comfort to those whose lives I had altered. I say altered because if I admitted ‘ruining’ or even ‘destroying’ them I wouldn’t be able to go on. I had to buy in to their storyline just to stay sane myself, no one was dying, I wasn’t really killing anyone, all I was doing was preventing them from having children.

It was for their own good.

Anyway, the Waning Salons were a flop. I couldn’t find any Vietnamese girls and it turns out that was the only reason anybody got their nails done, having their hands held by sweet young Asians.

It was around this time when I realized something had either gone terribly wrong or the eagle had lied to us, and this was no thinning of the herd, it was wholesale slaughter.

I decided to entrench and ride it out.

Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to ride it out in style.

We didn’t initially conceive of building a fortress, it just sort of worked out that way.

As the rest of the surrounding countryside began collapsing, we turned into THE destination.

I had the wealth, so I had the power.

People gravitated to the power and I couldn’t very well turn them away.

It was hard to compete with the growth of the animal population, they kept reproducing, we did not. Carnivores were outpaced by herbivores.

The natural world, grazing herds of elk, bison, deer, would graze away our crops.

We started building fences, those, over time, were overgrown by vegetation. It was a constant battle to fight back the blackberry vines, the scotch broom, invasive indeed.

Those building materials we did have didn’t last. Making barbed wire required manufacturing, an industry that hadn’t survived, the production of steel and retooling of said proved impossible. Large-scale fencing to combat feral plants and animals had to be done in wood and stone.

The first enclosure went around our little garden. Yet more and more people arrived. They had skills – construction, masonry, farming, greenskeepers – but most had useless skills.

Accountants, computer programmers, journalists, literary agents, consultants, etc…they were all obsolete, and they were the vast majority.

In short order we had at our disposal huge numbers of unskilled laborers.

Cultivation was one effort, construction of the massive outer wall to prevent wildlife incursions was another. We feared the carnivores, but we feared the herbivores more.

Herds of voracious goats could wipe out months of labor in one afternoon. Trees came down and the walls went up, impressive 15-foot high structures done with skill and craftsmanship in some areas, haphazard bulwarks in others.

There was a flow of people like a wave and then as they died the wave receded. Evidence of this wave could be seen in the rows of walls, if seen from above our compound would have looked like a dartboard with a humongous center.

Late arrivals fenced in their plots adjacent to the outer wall, but these were abandoned as the group thinned and everyone congregated around the main compound. Some walls were torn down to make room for more cultivation, but large scale agriculture became less and less urgent.

Fewer people, less food.

It was at this point that the first golf course was built. We had those greenskeepers, we had people from all walks of life. Lots of doctors and nurses, thankfully, although the medical treatment they administered became increasingly rudimentary.

The survivors were much healthier than in Old Era days, they were more rugged and a diet consisting mainly of vegetables and wild game from the occasional hunting foray proved to be quite beneficial.

It wasn't a bad life.

There were no diapers to change.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Chapter 6 - Before the Flood

It took another week for the old man to die, and every day it was the same refrain.

“Let no one else see it. Is the safe safe? Don’t judge me too harshly. It was beyond my control.”

He grew more and more maudlin, until, finally, on a cold morning, just as dawn’s gray creep brought a gauzy light to lift his sorrowful mug out of shadow, he turned his head toward me, lifted his dry eyes to mine in one last act of supplication, and kicked it.

The silence was almost immediately broken by the piercing cry of a hawk or some other bird of prey. It returned and returned again, signaling three times with that high-pitched alarm of his breed.

I considered this a good omen. As soon as I had done the necessary with doctors and staff, indeed done it with great speed, to the point where those on the other end of my cursory directions wondered visibly at my seemingly odd behavior following so closely on the expiration of the family patriarch; as soon as this was done and as quickly as decorum would allow, I scurried across the grass driven by a curiosity stimulated to extreme by a week of expectation and a lifetime of wonder.

And, so it was that I could finally, in good faith, open that envelope my father had given me which contained, and contained nothing but, the combination to the much aforementioned safe.

Three numbers and three letters written in his own neat hand on letterhead we hadn’t used for decades.

I’ll try to let my father’s words speak for themselves, limiting any editorializing on my part, for what reason, I am not certain. Perhaps to distance myself, protection from culpability – I was, after all, his most trusted accomplice, his partner in crime, if you will. And it is those words in themselves that prove my point. Crime? What crime exactly? Culpable for what, accomplice to what? So, you see; I say too much.

What he had said was true. Why would it be otherwise? Notebooks and files, typed pages, diskettes, reel to reel tape recordings – useful as gift-wrapping ribbons, I suppose. Where did I start? It does not matter. I continued through to the end, devouring each piece of the puzzle, trying to digest it all, failing, and returning for second servings to try again. This is some of what I found:

Three days later after I awoke puzzled and bruised, I found myself once more out in the yard. Fiddling and futzing as I had been the past 72 hours, unable to concentrate, driven to distraction, as the saying goes. Work had been impossible. My wife was ready to throttle me.

I escaped to a semblance of solitude by the woods, scooping shovelfuls of soil around a transplanted rhododendron – off in my hope garden, that spot I reserved for desperate cases, the sad plants that had failed elsewhere. With little enthusiasm, I knelt over the brittle rhody that suffered from too much sunlight – pushing the soil down around it with my hands.

“Psst!!...” I heard.

I lifted my head and looked around, unsure I’d heard anything, doubting my hearing, indeed, all sensory perceptions, still, three days later.

Again, though, I heard, “Psst!...”

This time I stood and looked around.

“Over here, dipshit!”

I walked into the woods a step and there, tam-o'shanter perched jauntily on his head, cigarette dangling rakishly from his lip, standing, or rather leaning against a tall straight douglas fir, was, the cat.

He recognized the numb disbelief on my face and said, “Didn’t think you’d see me again?”


“Don’t talk. Just shut up and look stupid for a minute. Shouldn’t be too hard for you.”

He took a drag on the cigarette, looked down at the butt and casually flicked it away.

“Look, I don’t want to be here, but those fucking birds have me by the short hairs so I, we, might as well make the most out of this. The fact of the matter is, their mind is made up, all the pieces are in place and if it isn’t you and me it’s two other clowns, and, really, there’s not much to this…”

“Excuse me,” I interrupted.

“No. What part of ‘shut up’ don’t you understand, you ugly lumbering baboon.”

“Give it a rest,” I told him, getting my bearings. I had been lost in the ‘real’ world because all this had been plaguing me, which helped because now I was, physically, where my mind had been for days.

“Your schtick doesn’t play if what you’ve already told me is true.”

I had his attention. He looked less smug.

“One, you can’t continue belittling me if we are in this together, and, two, you are clearly an errand boy, so drop the act.”

“Oh, it’s no act, human.”

“Stop,” I said, glancing around, wondering if my boy or wife might be wandering by. There was no need for them to witness what was either a psychotic break on my part or a terrible freak on the part of nature.

“Just get to the point without being belligerent. There’s no reason we can’t be civil.”

“Fine,” he coughed in a huff, while assuming a posture slightly, but noticeably, less hostile.



We eyed each other, weighing each other up. We were to spend a lot of time together, damn near eternity, and I was glad I had put my foot down. I would not have liked, I wouldn’t have been able to suffer his ridiculous pomposity for as long as I had to, had I not slapped his paw as I did then.

“Just give it to me straight then,” I told him, “without the drama. What is going on? Why am I talking to a cat like you?”

He lifted his cap and ran his paw through disheveled hair, disheveling it more before returning the cap.

“It’s like this. The birds want me to babysit you.”

I looked at him skeptically, frowning and raising an eyebrow.

“OK, they want me to help you, and,” he added, “they want you to help me.”

“And you? Do you want me to help you?”

He shuffled his feet, scratching at the organic litter, the decomposing detritus on the forest floor.

“Well, yes. And, to be perfectly frank, as pissed as I am to have to admit it, I do need you.” He quickly added, though, to compensate for this admission, “But you need me, too.”

“I’m not going to pretend I understand this, hell, I’m not ready to admit that any of this is even ‘really’ happening, but if what I’ve heard, if I even have a shred of true comprehension, I just, I mean, what am I supposed to do? What, what…” I stammered and my ramble just sort of petered out. The cat looked at me with something resembling pity.

“It’s already started,” he sighed, pulled out another cigarette, struck a match against the tree trunk he’d been leaning on, took a deep drag, and said, “the sterilization process has begun. We’re in Phase One.”

I just stared, mute, stunned to speechlessness.

“This first phase will be pretty deep. It’s an all-out offensive, we’ve even enlisted the houseflies. Rats and mosquitoes and their ilk were easy, shit, this is part of their MO, so their noses weren’t bent out of shape. Houseflies, though, that significantly increases our reach, and they’ve always tried to remain below the radar.”

“Are you saying it’s the rats and insects that are doing the sterilization?”

“Oh, not just them. It’s damn near the entire animal kingdom. We want to see broad and massive evidence of success.”

“What constitutes ‘evidence’? It seems the effects of this would take awhile to be evident. At least 9 months, I guess.”

“Yes. And, that’s why we need to get to work. We have some time, not a lot, but there’s a lot we need to do.”


“We need to get funding. We need to identify key humans, key gene pools to retain.”

“Are you saying we are to be the judges of who lives and who dies?”

“You’re looking at this the wrong way. We’re not ‘killing’ anyone. Every human on earth will live as long as he or she was going to live.”

“But don’t you see, that those lives will be significantly changed, for the worse, much much more for the worse.”

He shrugged and took another drag. “Ultimately, it’s for their own good. Humanity will thank us in the end.”

“What’s left of it.”

“Well, what’s left of it should be the best of it. And, that’s why we need to get to work.”

“This is a bit surprising coming from you. You are, from all I’ve seen and heard, seem to me a…man-hater, for want of a better word.”

“I despise you, true. Yet, I need you. For better or worse, I am, what you might call, domesticated. I will not ‘hunt’,” he said snootily. “I have developed more refined tastes, and, as such, more particular requirements than those of my species more feral than myself.”

I thought about this and then it occurred to me, “You’re out on the street.” His whiskers twitched. “You are…homeless.”

“A tough spot for the domesticated.”

I laughed. I enjoyed watching him squirm. Then I took a closer look and saw just how ratty he had become. Burrs and thistles protruded from his dirty fur, which appeared well-soiled and matted in spots. His mock bravado punctured, the façade torn down, this cat, this bombastic mean-spirited cat, actually seemed pitiable, forlorn. My laughter waned and I asked him, “How did you get yourself into this mess?”

“I told you,” he started. “I’m on the lam.” He wasn’t quite ready to accept the role of the pitiful.

“Oh, right…’computer fraud’.”

He tapped his forehead with a paw in an expression that said, ‘duh.’

“But, on the lam from whom exactly? I mean are there cops that go after cats?”

“Not human cops.”

“Cat cops prosecute computer fraud?” I said, still skeptical.

“I just copped to computer fraud because it was a lesser plea. I was initially up for crimes against animality.”


“I violated one of our cardinal rules. Never communicate with humans.”

“Apparently, you haven’t learned your lesson.”

“No, I guess I haven’t.”

“So, you were convicted…”

“I was screwed, railroaded, my lawyer was a snake, it was a real kangaroo court.”

“What do you mean?”

“What do I mean? Jesus, kid, do I have to spell it out for you? They caught me in a cathouse, put me on a train, gave me a diamondback rattler for a defense attorney and then sat me in front of Judge Skippy and her Bouncing Bailifff. I was sent up river.”

“What river?”

“No river, kid, I was speaking metaphorically. Luckily, someone made bail for me and I was out of the hoosegow the next morning. I didn’t stick around to ask questions, I just made tracks, went into hiding on the seedier side of town. That’s where some dirty rat told me about the party in the woods. I hooked up with the possums and figured it was as good a place as any to lay my paws on some scratch. Those weasels had the drug racket, but no one was making a book on the brawl.”


“The fight, man, the fight. You were there, those stupid raccoons. Rocky was bought to take a fall but those two buffoons made a farce of it. That’s when the eagle got me.”

“Right,” I said.

“So, that about catches us up to here.” He stood on tip toes and then crouched, trying to see my house behind me. “Are you going to invite me in, or are you going to make me beg. I could use a clean bed and a stiff drink…not necessarily in that order, if you get my drift.”

He had nerve, you had to give him that.

“Wait a minute! What makes you think…”

“Oh, come on, buddy, don’t make this any harder on me…”

“Harder on you?! You’re asking me to take in a criminal cat and participate in some crazy scheme to end the human race!”

“’End’?! Shit. Again, with the hyperbole. That’s not it at all. Just let me in and I’ll explain the whole thing, nice and slow so you can understand. Do you have cable? High speed internet?”

I just shook my head in disbelief. What else could I do, what else would anyone have done? It was one of those moments when you can feel the weight of the atmosphere, the very air around me seemed heavy with the expectation, as if it was a soup, a plasma that I didn’t move through but which moved me.

“Fine,” I said in resignation, then turned to walk out of the woods. I stopped and looked back, the cat was grinning, beaming, ready to leap past me, “but lose the hat.”

“Right, right,” he said excitedly. “You’re not going to regret this.”

I already was and still do to this day. Too late now, though. The cat scurried behind me then ran ahead, returned, rubbed himself around my ankles almost tripping me as we made our way to my front door.

He stopped short and in a bit of a panic whispered sharply, “You don’t have a dog do you?”

Monday, October 20, 2008

After the Flood - Chapter 5

When I first saw my father’s notebooks I myself was a very old man. My father lived to be 127 years old and he was cogent to the end. On his deathbed, in the hospital wing of one of our Guest Houses, he revealed his secret to me.

As I sat next to him, reading in my favorite highback chair, he quietly asked me to come over to his bedside.

“There’s something you need to know,” he said to me in his hushed, weakened voice.

“Can it wait until I finish this chapter,” I said.

“Fuck you.”

“It’s just two more pages,” I said leafing ahead.

“Just get over here!” Dying men can get terribly impatient.

I walked over. He lifted his head and looked around. “Are the doctors gone?”

“They’re all asleep.” We had a team of doctors that lived with us. Well, they had their own apartments in the hospital wing.

“The nurses?”

“Just Nurse Cratchett down the hall.”

He motioned me closer with a bent finger. He looked me in the eyes, he seemed afraid, guilty, I was worried about becoming the recipient of his last confession, or, to be more precise, I was worried that he thought it was time for a last confession, that he felt the end was near.

My father was much more than a father to me. He was my mentor, then my partner, a business partner extraordinaire. He was a genius and we made vast sums of money together. Incredible wealth during a time of global transformation. Catastrophic changes racked the planet and my father and I navigated through them, fearless captain and loyal lieutenant.

Beyond the success, the wealth, the luxury, though, there stood the unprecedented longevity. On that fateful day in his last bedroom, I was 95 years old. We had been together, I mean inseparable, for damn near a century. For three quarters of a century we worked side by side in adjoining offices atop the West Tower. We never left the complex alone. It had been that way for so long I never even questioned it. He even bought a house in Cambridge when I went to Harvard. He moved to Paris while I did graduate work at the Sarbonne.

The prospect of losing my father was no ordinary thing. I don’t want to give you the idea that it was devastating. When a guy passes 125 you had better have come to grips with the idea that this person is going to die some day. If you haven’t, you’ve lost your grasp on reality.

Reality had been difficult to grasp, though. The world was nothing like it had been when I was young. But more on that later, we were at the dramatic bedside scene.

He was looking at me with eyes that lacked confidence, and that in itself was shocking. My father was always the most cocksure man in the room. He saw things differently, people talk about seeing the big picture, that 30,000 foot view, well he had that in spades, but he never flaunted it. He never blustered, he wasn’t the belligerent, obnoxious, know-it-all CEO we so often had to deal with.


He would sit in meetings, quietly taking things in from the end of the board room table, then smile his Cheshire cat smile and tell us how it was going to be, like he was letting us in on a little secret. And people couldn’t resist him. His fiercest opponents were always, ultimately, swayed to his way of thinking, and it was his eyes that did it, those calm, piercing, confident eyes.

At that moment, though, as I looked at him for nearly the last time, that fire was fading, the light had dimmed. So, yes, I was worried, but hardly saddened. We couldn’t have asked for a more fulfilling relationship. Never in history had such a man existed, had such a family as ours flourished so.

How many men get to golf with their great great grandson? To be honest, though, he wasn’t that great. My grandson was a much better golfer than him at his age. When the course we’d built couldn’t challenge him anymore, we had to redesign it and then we had to build a brand new one, another 18 hole track nearly 2,000 yards longer. Again, though, I digress.

In short, my father had lived a full life. Now, I was ready for some prescient last words, but I never expected the impact, the ground-shaking magnitude, of the simple words he spoke that day.

He looked up at me and told me cryptically, as if handing me a key, both literally and figuratively as it turned out, to the most remarkable story I’d ever heard, and, trust me, in this day and age, I’ve heard some pretty remarkable stories. He told me in an uncharacteristically fluttering voice, “I knew it would happen.”

“You knew what would happen, dad?”

“All of it. Everything.”

I stared down at him carefully, with care. I didn’t want him to think I thought he was losing it if he wasn’t losing it. Lord knows how many times that had happened in the last 20 years. He could get pretty offended when people thought he was going crazy. 'Just cuz a guy turns 118 doesn’t mean he’s senile!' he’d shout.

“What do you mean, ‘everything’?”

“Listen,” he said, softer still. “I have a safe. No one knows about it. The men who built it are long dead.” He paused to catch his breath. “I want you to open it…when…not until,” he emphasized that ‘not until’, “not until I’m gone.”

“Okay…” I said slightly shakily.

He pursed his lips and chastised me with his eyes. “Don’t give me that look you little shit, I’m still your father and I’m still sane. I’ll beat your ass.”

That reassured me.

“Where is it?”

“It’s in the New House.”

The ‘New’ House was built 80 years ago. Since then dozens of buildings had gone up on the compound, but we still called it the New House.

“In the basement. Under the stairs.”

“Under the stairs?”

“Are you deaf, you old coot. I said under the stairs, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but dad, there’s nothing under those stairs, that basement was carved out of solid rock.”

“Sometimes I can’t believe you’re my son. Are you going to have to write this down? I designed that building, you imbecile, I know what’s under those stairs.”

“OK, OK, geez, you don’t have to bite my head off.”

He smiled, “You’re still the same. Nearly 100, one of the most powerful men in the world, and you’re still a stupid teenager.”

I sighed in exasperation. “Right, right.” Like a hadn’t heard that a million times before. “Back to the safe under the stairs, and, if you don’t mind my saying so, a secret safe under the stairs? – really, it’s a bit cliché don’t you think?”

“Fuck you. I was only in my forties, it sounded like a cool idea. And, anyway, it’s worked. No one but me, and now you, knows it exists.”

“So, what’s in it?”

“I’m not going to tell you, you moron, haven’t you been listening.”

“Why not?”

His face turned grave again, embarrassed, afraid.

“I just can’t,” he said. I decided I had to respect that. Looking back now I understand why, I understand entirely. Then, I took it on faith, on the look in his face, in his eyes, on that understanding we had between us. I wouldn’t ask him what it was he had hidden in that safe again.

We sat quietly for awhile before he spoke again.

“You need to find stone 47.”

I’d always wondered why he had numbered those stones.

“Behind stone 47 you’ll find a key. You getting this?”

“Yes, dad,” I whined.

“Take that key and go to stone 98, or was it 99? 98?”

I looked at him impatiently.

“I’m joking, I’m joking. It’s stone 98. You think I’d forget this. It’s around the corner on the wall of my old office.”

“OK. Stone 98…”

“Remove that stone, behind it, there’s…”

“A lock.”

“That’s my boy. Now go open it.”


“I hate to break the news to you, son, but I don’t have all day.”

“Oh, come on…I thought you said…”

“Just do it!” he fairly shouted, as much of a shout as a dying 127-year old could shout.

I had no choice.

I left the hospital wing of Guest House #2 and headed across the 18th fairway of Course #2, what we called the New Course - we weren’t much for creative nomenclature – to the New House.

At that hour most everyone was asleep. A guard sat at the door, he stood when I approached, and as soon as he recognized me, opened the door, greeting me with a nod of the head. “Late night, sir?”

“You said it, Maurice.” It took me awhile to get used to men in their 70s calling me “sir” but that’s the way of the world.

I grabbed a torch and went downstairs to the basement. It was a dark, cold place now, but I remember when I was a child running down there to roust my father from his office. He kept it bright with an abundance of lighting, dozens of floorlamps, little desklamps on filing cabinets and the like to compensate for the total absence of sunlight. He usually had a fire going in the woodstove, that cat of his curled up beside it, even long into the summer. Without it, the place quickly grew damp and chilly like it was now.

I pushed the torch in front of me and sought the stone. We’d long ago shut down the New House, no point in wasting the electricity. And now I can see my father’s ulterior motive – no point in having people mucking around his secret hiding place.

Father left few things to chance.

When I found number 47, I quickly realized this wasn’t going to be quickly accomplished. The stone would not budge. I had to rummage around in the tool shed for a screwdriver and a hammer. I wondered if Maurice could hear me as I chipped away the mortar around the stone. My father and his flair for the dramatic. I finally, prized it loose and, sure enough, found a key in a small metal container with “Hide-a-Key” printed on it. One of dad’s clever jokes.

I then had to go around the corner and repeat the process with stone 98. This time there was a rectangular metal piece affixed sidewise with a small handle, which I pulled. The plate came free with some difficulty and revealed the lock, it still shone like new in the shaky torchlight. I inserted the key, turned it and heard a loud click. A roughly three foot by three foot, but by no means square, section of the wall snapped out of place. It was a great piece of handiwork. The rounded stones fit into place like puzzle pieces, and the hinged door swung open easily.

There was the safe. A combination safe. He had not given me any combination.

Cursing, I made my way back to the hospital. Father must have heard me stomping down the hall because he had a childish impish grin on his face when I stopped next to his bed.

“The combination?” I said.

“Be patient. I’m not dead yet.”

I miss him dearly, of course, but he could be a real pain in the ass.

“Did you close it up?”

“Yes, dad.”

“Was Maurice there?”


“Good man, Maurice. Did I ever tell you I knew his wife?”

This was one of my father’s favorite euphemisms. He had countless lovers, if that is indeed the proper word for it. Concubine doesn’t work either. They were more like playthings, hors d’oeuvres, carnal snacks.

You see everyone knew he was a breeder, that he wasn’t sterile. So, women would come to him in the hope that he could impregnate them. Often their husbands brokered the deal, they were so desperate for children. There was The Test, certainly everyone took The Test, yet people still wanted to make sure. Trust, but verify, right? And, my dad was almost always willing to oblige.

“No, dad, I don’t think you did,” I deadpanned. “And, how did Maurice feel about that?”

“Oh, he was most grateful. ‘It took a load off’ he had said.” He snickered, “It took a load off me, too.”

“You’re a dirty old man.”

“And you aren’t?”

He had me there. The temptation was too great, unbearable. What would you do?

“So, what’s the combination?”

“Hold your horses. We need to talk seriously. I have important things to tell you.”

“What did The Manic-Depressive say when he pushed his son on the swing?”

“You told me this joke 40 years ago in Lyon. I don’t know how you’re going to manage without me, you feeble-minded nincompoop.”

“You’re bluffing.”

“You doubt me? You dare doubt your father after all these years.”

“So, what’s the punchline…”

“’Ennui…Ennui-eee’. Now, can we get serious?”

He had the schooling of a peasant, but the memory of an elephant.

“OK. What’s so important that you had to wait until your deathbed to tell me.”

“Listen to me.”

“I’m listening.”

“One word.”

“Yes, what is it?”

“Are you sure you’re listening?”

“Yes, I’m listening!”

He paused for effect, raised one finger, and said, barely able to restrain the laughter…”Plastics.” He thought he was hilarious.

“I thought we were done with the jokes.”

“It’s not a joke, it’s a line from a great movie.”

“There are no movies anymore, dad. There are no actors, hell, there hasn’t even been any film for more than 40 years.”

“So, I still remember them.”

“Yeah, you and about 10 other people in the world.”

That seemed to strike home, and the smile faded from his lips. The laughter died in the room, and the silence became oppressive. If I hadn’t known all the moisture had long dried out of the old cur’s tearducts, I would have sworn I’d seen a watering in his eyes.

“You’re right,” he said glumly.

“A rare concession.”

“Well, you’re going to have to be right a lot more often. You’re not going to have me watching your back anymore and things are only going to get worse.”

The mood of the room had changed entirely. The stillness of the night grew more obvious. The darkness, the lateness of the hour, our alone-ness, all contributed to the proper ambience, at last, for our important exchange.

He sighed and I could see his exhaustion, he let his guard down and for the last time I noticed that dejected countenance of his, his “sad mask” I used to call it. It would come and go, fleeting, yet now it lingered.

“No film. No tape. No compact disks, DVDs…floppies,” he scoffed.

“No, dad, they’re all gone. Things for the history books.”

“Except there are no history books.”

“No historians,” he added flatly.

“Not exactly the highest priority.”

“No, probably not. Not yet, at least. But there will come a time. And, now that I think about it that’s part of what I want to tell you.”

He had my attention.

“In that safe are documents, files. There are tape recordings and videotapes, but I had to make transcripts of those when I realized there weren’t going to be any of the devices needed to play them left. They’re there in case you ever track one down. Mostly, everything is recorded on paper. The old-fashioned way.”

“No gold doubloons?”

“You know as well as I do that all the gold in the world is worthless now.”

I smiled inwardly at how much we’d made selling gold short and then going long on grains. One of our masterstrokes.

“Look, I’ve done some things I’m ashamed of,” he said as if he were reading my mind. We destroyed people. Sure, they were going to die anyway, but still it wasn’t very nice. Laissez faire and C’est la vie only go so far.

“There are things in that safe that I want to explain to you. I’m not trying to justify myself, I don’t think, in the end, that I ever had much choice in the matter. They chose me. It was my fate. You, though, and everyone else, I’m sorry to say, are the ones that are going to have to do the hard work, and you should know, you should be aware of how this all came about, this dying off.”

“You know how? I mean, sometimes I suspected something…”

“You did?”

“Well, you always seemed to know too much, to be too farsighted, as if you could see the future.”

“Ridiculous! You’re just saying that now because I told you.”

“No, honestly.”

“Stop. You always did have to be a know-it-all. Just like your mother.”

I shrugged.

“No matter. It all really doesn’t matter at this point. I just want you to know. I want you to know what happened and why I did it. And I don’t want you to judge me too harshly. Out of everyone, everyone who’s left, even most everyone who’s gone, I respect your opinion the highest.”

“’Most’ everyone?” I asked.

“You’re still a competitive little bugger. Sometimes I thought you enjoyed all this a bit too much.”

“Life is suffering. It’s better to suffer less, I’ve always felt.”

“I suppose that’s been a good way for you to look at things. But, you have to change, you have to teach the rest of them to change when they come back, if they come back. It’s the only way we’ll get back to the way things were, to a better way if we are to believe, if we are to believe them…”

He trailed off. “Who?” I asked. “If we are to believe who? Who are them, I mean who are they?”

But he wouldn’t answer. He just shook his head. That was one of the secrets I was going to find in the safe, I would have to wait. He simply handed me an envelope and whispered, “Not until I’m gone.”

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Feline, Aquiline...Punchline? - Chapter 4

Heading into the woods was a bad idea. But, then, I hadn’t had many good ideas in awhile. It took less than five yards for me to find my first patch of stinging nettle, no more than ten before I’d plunged headlong into a thorny mass of blackberry vines.

Why did I not turn back you might ask. To which I’d reply, there is no turning back. Pithy? Yes. True? I don’t know. I was confused, that much I do know.

I barely knew which way was up. The burning white welts from the nettle made my feet throb. I broke off long fern fronds and tried to fashion makeshift shoes out of them, but those would quickly fall off. I thought about lying down and simply waiting until morning. The prospect, though, of stumbling out of the woods, onto some residential road, or worse, some residence, barefoot, bleeding and hungover in the harsh light of day, kept me stumbling along in the sheer hope that I could make it home before dawn. Eventually, I came to a gully, and I followed it thinking it looked familiar, thinking it might have been the gully we’d seen on the way in, my deer friend and I.

I figured if I followed it down I might recognize the spot where we’d entered, plus, it was heading down, it would ultimately lead to the water. As I tripped my way across stones and roots, though, a peculiar thing happened. It appeared I was no longer heading downhill. Somewhere along the way the creekbed had switched course on me, for I was most definitely now walking uphill, whereas I had been most certain I had been heading downhill. This threw me for a loop, if I couldn’t trust gravity, if I couldn’t trust water to run downhill and find its lowest point, then I was lost.

Truer words had never been spoken, and I did indeed speak them. I said to myself, at least at that moment, I thought I was saying to myself, that is, only myself, I said those simple, sad words, “I’m lost.” Most unexpectedly, from out of a nearby bush, came a response

“Just keep going,” said the bush.

“Well, will you look at that,” I said, again mostly to myself, “it’s a talking bush, and it’s not even on fire.”

“I’m no bush, you imbecile,” said the bush. Bushes could be real dicks, I understood, so I was trying to figure out how to break it to this bush, who was clearly in denial, that he was, in fact, a bush, when, from out of said bush, hopped a big black crow, as if they come in other colors.

“Oh,” I said, “You’re right. You are a crow.”

“No shit,” said the crow, “Now just keep going.”

Not wanting to belabor the issue, I took the crow’s advice, put aside my doubts about gravity and the other immutable laws of nature, eg, animals can’t talk, etc. and trudged on up my rocky gully. It grew rockier and rockier, steeper, too, until I was no longer walking but rather climbing, finding handholds and footholds and pulling and pushing myself upwards while the crow occasionally flew by to caw, “Just keep going.”

At one point, on a narrow ledge, I stopped to catch my breath and take a look around. I was surrounded by trees so couldn’t see, not that I could have seen much in the darkness, but I did get the sensation of altitude. I felt very high, in other words.

The crow hopped down next to me from some rock above and said, well, you can probably guess what he said, he said, “Just keep going.”

Ever compliant, I took a deep breath, sighed, and continued my climb. I don’t know exactly how long this went on or how high I went. I kept putting one hand in front of the other like an automaton, until, with very little warning, the terrain leveled off. Flattened, actually. I was suddenly standing on flat ground, a sort of mesa.

Somewhere in front of me I heard voices. The crow landed at my feet. “I know, I know, ‘just keep going,’” I said looking down at the black bird, who merely grinned and with a flourish of his wing ushered me in the direction of a stand of trees. I walked where he had pointed, pushed my way through the branches and entered a room, what amounted to a room, at least. It had all the appearances of a room, but I would not take notice of that until later. I was too flabbergasted by what lay before me, or who, no, what. That is to say, I’m baffled still, it was the eagle and the cat, sitting calmly together, a bottle of scotch between them.

“Oh, hey, you’re here. Good,” said the eagle, casually.

I said nothing. I stood motionless.

“I’m sorry,” the eagle said, brushing his forehead with his wing in display of absent-mindedness, “where are my manners? You two don’t know each other.” Then aiming his wing my way then the cat’s, the eagle introduced us, “Human, Cat. Cat, Human.”

“Hey,” I mumbled, raising my hand halfway in a lame attempt at a greeting.

The cat stared at me and then turned to the eagle, whom he glowered at reprovingly.

“What’s he doing here?!” the cat spat at the eagle.

The eagle cackled, no other word for it, really. He was in his cups, trashed, loaded, in short, he was high as a kite. Laughing, he bent over to take a sip from the shotglass of scotch that sat in front of him on a large flat rock that served as both table and chair for the bird.

The cat sat, legs crossed, on a tree stump opposite the eagle who dipped his beak into the shotglass again, looking for all the world, like one of those kitschy desk fixtures, the bobbing bird perpetual motion machine.

I tried to get my bearings by studying my surroundings. This room, this den in a copse atop a mountain was outfitted with the latest gadgetry. A flatscreen TV hung from one tree, the dull light and slight hum from a computer came from a rolltop desk built into the fat trunk of the largest tree in the room, the focal point, the nexus, if you will. The eagle watched me, amused, as I turned one way and then another, my jaw dropping further with each new sight. Who knew an eagle would need an espresso machine.

I looked around for wires, light switches, what did he use for electricity.

“Wi-fi, hi-fi,” he slurred nonsensically, and then broke into drunken laughter.

The cat just shook his head and said, “He’s such a lightweight.”

“I’m fine. I’m fine,” the eagle said in response, still giggling as he dried the tears of laughter from his eyes with a wing. “You’re just a bad influence.”

“I don’t get it,” I said, “What’s this all about?”

“Yes, ‘Mr.-I’ve-Got-A-Plan,’” the cat barked sarcastically. “What is this all about?”

“Relax, relax. Jesus, cat, you sure are a spoiled-sport.”

“Don’t you blaspheme in here,” replied the cat.

“That’s rich coming from you. It’s bad enough I’ve made this deal with the devil, I don’t need you mocking me,” the eagle was straightening up, gently brushing his chest feathers with his wings and parting his white head feathers with one carefully placed talon as he examined himself in one of many mirrors hanging from branches around him, much like you’d find in a parrot cage, I thought.

“Easy,” said the cat, “Don’t say something you might regret.”

“Oh, I’ve done that already. I did that the minute I opened my door to you.”

“Um,” I started.

“No ‘ums’ from you, human. This bird and I aren’t finished.”


Oh no, I thought, not again. But, the cat was too fast for him. “Yeah, bird. You may be the lion of the skies and all that, but my folks own terra firma, so save your huffery puffery for someone whom gives a shit. Now, we had a plan and I don’t remember any human being any part of that plan.”

The eagle squawked, “Yes, we have a plan, you wicked furball, but plans change. And, if you’ve got a problem with it then you can take it up with the Big Bird. I don’t think you’re in a position to negotiate.”

“Don’t give me this ‘Big Bird’ crap. I see right through this ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine. You two are cut from the same cloth.”

“Birds of a feather,” I chimed in.

They both turned to stare at me.

“Again. What the fuck is he doing here?”

“Get a grip, kitty, and I’ll lay it out for you,” said the eagle calmly, seemingly all sobered up. “We need this guy.”

“We need him? The way you told me the story was I needed you guys and you needed me, now ‘we’ need him,” he pointed at me derisively with his paw. “There’s a whole lot of ‘needing’ going on. I don’t like ‘needing’. I like having, see.”

“OK, Cagney, holster that paw of yours. Think about it, we need someone on the inside or all hell is going to break loose.”

“That’s not my problem,” the cat said glibly.

“Oh, but it is,” countered the bird.

They stared grimly at each other. I’d never been in a treehouse where the atmosphere was so tense. I broke the silence by asking, “Is someone going to tell me what’s going on?”

The bird slowly looked away from the cat. I’d broken the spell. He turned to me, stared with his icy eagle eyes and said, without a trace of humor in his voice, “We’ve taken matters into our own hands.”

I let those words sink in before asking, “What does that mean, exactly?”

“You remember the first time we met?”

“Of course, hard to forget.”

“Well, we believe we can no longer rely on your kind to take care of the planet.”

“You’re serious,” I said dubiously.


I looked from the eagle to the cat. He, too, looked serious. I’ve never seen a more serious cat.

“So, what’s your deal?” I asked the cat.

“I’m on the lam,” he said.

I looked back at the eagle, who said, “Computer fraud.”

I looked back at the cat, who said, “It’s a long story.”

“You can fill me in later. So, what the heck is this plan of yours, and how am I supposed to fit in?”

“We’re going to sterilize you,” the eagle said, a bit too cavalier for my taste.

“Excuse me?!”

“We got the idea from the deer,” said the cat. “It happens to them in Connecticut all the time. They’re really pissed off about it.”

“Can’t say I blame them,” I said. “So, what, am I supposed to be your first then, your guinea pig?”

“No, no, that’s not it at all,” said the eagle. “Besides, we have guinea pigs for that. Everything’s already been tested. FDA approved. We’re ready to roll.”

“I’m happy for you.”

“Easy on the sarcasm, pal.”

“Well, excuse me for not sharing your enthusiasm. Unless I’m mistaken, you’re talking about the elimination of humankind.”

“No, no, no. Christ, you’re such an alarmist. We’re just talking about thinning the herd. It’s really the most humane solution.”

“Sounds more like a final solution. Hasn’t this been done before?” I said bitterly.

“Come on give us a little credit, we’re not animals,” said the eagle. “We know what we’re doing.”

As you might imagine, this was deeply troubling.

“Don’t worry, we can make sure you’re safe,” said the cat. “We’re just going to spay and neuter the worthless people. Give you a taste of your own medicine.”

“Who decides who's 'worthless'? Who gave you the right to play God?” I queried the eagle, who just shrugged indifferently, there are few other ways to shrug, I know, yet his bespoke untold righteousness, confidence, and apathy, too.

“These eagles have a very lofty opinion of themselves,” the cat countered from his side of the table.

“So, let me see if I have this straight. You guys are going to systematically eliminate, what? Half of the world’s population?”

“Oh, way more than half,” chirped the eagle.

“Yes, yes, much more,” echoed the cat. “We’d like to see it come down to the tens of thousands, maybe less.”

I was stunned. I rubbed my temples trying to grasp the magnitude of such an occurrence.

“The ‘wild kingdom’ is very excited about this,” said the eagle. “It’s polled very well in all the key demographics.”

“Especially the predators,” purred the cat. “The big cats are stoked. I mean, the Great White hunters were one thing, but now these photo safaris, whole families out in Range Rovers snapping pictures all the time, no privacy. And, don’t get them started on National Geographic, they’ll talk your ear off.”

“And the fish!” exclaimed the eagle. “When we started talking about this with the farmed salmon…well, it was like the wildest feeding frenzy you’ve ever seen. They can’t wait to make a break for it.”

I pondered all this, trying with what little brain power I had left, still coming down from that possum dope as I was, trying to imagine the consequences.

“Have you guys thought this all the way through? This plan sounds sort of half-baked.”

“Oh, no, it’s completely baked,” smiled the bird. “Look you don’t have to like it. It’s going to happen one way or another. The Big Bird and I just thought it would be good to have one of you in on it.”

“In on it?” I asked suspiciously.

“Oh, don’t worry, you’ll be generously compensated.”

“Compensated? How? Is there an eagle bank somewhere, in the Caymans maybe?”

“Very funny. Think of the opportunities. You’re being very fatalistic about this.”

“We are talking about the end of civilization as we know it,” I said gravely.

“Honestly,” said the cat, sipping his scotch, “it’s not entirely civilized now is it?”

“Think of it as a ‘Do-Over’,” said the bird as he patted me on the shoulder with his wing. “It’s a chance for a fresh start. Trust me…you need one.”

I stood up and walked around this strange room. I paced around the stone table as the eagle and the cat silently watched my movements. I felt hunted.

“Why me?”

“Why not you,” replied the eagle. “My boss told me to go get a human, and you were there that day philosophizing and contemplating the infinite and shit. So, I figured you were as good a mark...I mean, candidate, as any.”

I stood there looking down at the two of them. The cat uncrossed his legs, leaned forward and said, “For what it’s worth, I’m on your side, dude. I think it’s too risky to bring a stupid human in on the job.” He poured himself another two fingers.

“Well, it’s not your decision, is it,” snapped the eagle. “It’s not as if you can walk at this point.”

“I don’t understand what you can want from me. What can I possibly do? And why would I want to do it? Why don’t you just go find someone else.”

“It’s a little too late for that,” said the eagle. “Don’t worry, it will all work out. We’ve thought of everything, trust me.”

I had a really hard time buying that. I must have looked as skeptical as I felt. “Come on, sit down, have a drink.” He flew over to a cupboard and came back with a highball glass in his claw. The cat poured some scotch into it.

I looked at them each in turn, suspiciously.

The cat raised his glass. The bird raised his head and gave me a strained smile.

I lifted my glass reticently and took a sip.

“You’ll feel better about this in the morning,” the eagle tried to reassure me.

“It’s a lot to get your head around, we understand that.” He dipped his beak into his glass. The three of us sat there in silence, weighing each other up. The cat still seemed displeased I was there. The eagle eyed the cat and then gave me his disingenuous grin again. I was baffled, befuddled, so I drank some more. There we sat, or, for the eagle’s part, stood. The cat on his stump, me on mine, the eagle shuffling his feet on that stone table, the scraping the only sound in the room.

I started to feel woozy. The eagle watched me carefully, then glanced at the cat. I turned to the cat and he looked kind of fuzzy, I mean fuzzier, you know, out of focus. My head felt very heavy and then all of a sudden that hard flat table was rushing towards my face.

I awoke on my lawn, my son leaning over me, shaking my shoulders, telling me to wake up. It was nearly dark.

“Mom’s been looking for you.” I slowly lifted myself into a sitting position, held my head in my hands and tried to rub out the cobwebs.

“What time is it?” I asked my boy.

“It’s dinner time, come on, Mom’s waiting.”


Only dinnertime.

What a dream, I thought, and then I felt the lump on my forehead.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Trippin' with Deer - Chapter 3

I was out in the yard gardening, and I got sleepy, so I decided to lie down on the lawn. We live out in the woods, our lawn is shrinking, the trees and vines and ferns are slowly creeping in towards the house. I’d been engaged in the futile task of weeding. We decided we didn’t want to use chemicals, so our lawn looks like crap. I was exhausted and discouraged. I knelt and then lowered myself onto my elbows and then turned, collapsed and looked up into the cloud-bespattered sky. Lost in incomprehensible contemplation, I fell asleep.

I awoke with a deer leaning down over me, his face close to mine, his big brown eye stared unblinking. He had bad breath. He opened his mouth wider, and spoke, “What do you think you’re doing here?”

“I’m resting my eyes,” I said.

“You’re sleeping.”

“No, I was just resting my eyes.” It was now dusk. I looked past the deer’s antlered head to see a sky gone gray and gloaming. He was probably right, it seemed I had been sleeping.

“You people have beds for that. In there,” he motioned towards the house with a jerk of his schnoz.

“Excuse me, but I think I can rest wherever I want,” I told him. “This is my lawn.”

He turned his impressive head, gave me a cold stare with his other big brown eye and said slowly, “You people.”

“What about us people,” I replied, somewhat offended, and lifted myself into a sitting position. Debating a deer from your back isn’t exactly negotiating from a position of strength. One can feel cowed by a deer, as it were, especially if said deer is towering over one’s prone body.

“You people,” he continued, “You have beds and couches and carpeted floors. You have television and blankets and heaters and cozy pajamas. You have cupboards and a refrigerator and a freezer and an oven. You’ve got all the food you could ever want stored away just waiting to be eaten – so much you can’t even eat it all, it rots and you throw it away. You have all this in that sturdy, dry, warm house of yours.” Again with the jerky schnoz.


“So! So, get up off the grass and go inside!”

“What if I said I didn’t want to.”

He pulled his head back and fixed me with another cold stare before saying, “What are you, five?”

“I’m just saying this is my house, my yard.”

“’My, my, my…me, me, me’, it’s always the same with you people, you just don’t get it.”

“Get what?”

“You prove my point.” He moved his feet, and started to turn. He was shuffling away when he looked back and said, “You’re lucky tonight’s a special night and I’m running late, otherwise, I’d stick around and teach you a thing or two.”

“Is that a threat?” I’d never been threatened by a deer before.

“Yeah, it is, pal,” he said trying to sound menacing. “I’m in the mood for a good old-fashioned ass-kicking. My horns have come in, I’m rutting and musky and haven’t been able to get any satisfaction. Oh, I try, and I try, but I just can’t…oh, you get my point.”

“I sure do.”

“Just go inside where you belong before I change my mind and mess you up.”

“He took a few more steps and I yelled after him, “Late for what?”

He turned and grunted back at me, “Huh?”

“You said you were running late, what exactly does a deer run late to?”

“Dude, it’s St. Mid-Vernal Solstice-mas.”

“St. what?”

“It’s the biggest party of the year.”

His “mood” had quickly changed. He dropped any ass-kicking pretenses and was now, suddenly, in a festive mood. I took a moment to examine this change. No longer the glowering mug, antlers in intimidating declensions, no tense shoulder and tight-lipped mouth. His head was tilted back, a radiant smile filled that formerly tight-lipped but certainly still foul-smelling mouth, and his eyes were lit up like a Christmas tree, so to speak. The quick transformation piqued my curiosity.

“You’re going there now?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said haltingly, perhaps foreseeing my next question.

“Can I come?”

He took a deep breath and sighed, his happiness evaporated into consternation. “I don’t know,” he started. “I don’t think it’s really the done thing. I mean I’ve never seen humans there before.”

“Oh, come on, please.” I begged and then changed tack, “How many of these things have you been to before?”

“Well, just one, come to think of it.”

“See, how would you know if it’s never done. You have no idea of the historical precedents.”


“There may have been humans at any of the countless number of these St Vernal amases that happened before you came along.”

He thought. A deer trying to think is sort of pathetic, he looked like a deer caught in…oh, nevermind.

“No. I gotta go,” he said, changing speeds and ambling towards the forest. This guy toggled through emotions like flipping channels.

“Wait!” I shouted after him. “Take me with you.”

He stopped. “OK, OK, already. Hurry up and come then.”

“Wait let me go grab my shoes.”

“Forget it, I don’t have time.”

“It’ll take two seconds.”

“Always two seconds! Listen I don’t have ‘two seconds’. Come here and climb on if you want to go with me. Otherwise I’m gone.”

I hesitated for a second, took a quick look back at the house and then ran over and climbed onto the back of the deer. I used his horns like handles, two joysticks for an incredible video game.

“Hold on,” he said, and we started tromping through the woods. It was slow going and quite awkward, especially when he had to make little leaps over fallen trees and branches that littered the forest floor. He was stronger than he looked for he managed to navigate this decidedly unflat terrain with skill and minimal huffing and puffing. It wasn’t a short trip, either. We went off, I’d reckon a half mile uphill, past our neighbors, whose houses I caught bouncing glimpses of through the trees. Then we turned into an unpopulated section of the forest, preserved open space. We went about another mile, although distances were hard to judge with all the detours and twisting and turning we made before we descended into a deep gully, at the bottom of which we turned north or west, it’s not possible to say now in retrospect as then, we turned right anyway and followed the gully up a gradual grade. The cover became increasingly thick, branches leaned over us forming a canopy, so it seemed we were walking through a tunnel, branches pulled at my clothing and left shallow white scrapes tinged with pink on my exposed arms and feet. It grew cold. Ahead I could hear a low rumbling and as we grew closer and the noise grew louder I could see the flickering of many small fires. At length we pulled into a clearing. What I saw as I looked around took my breath away, my heart beat fast and irregular. I felt dizzy.

The forest opened up into a sort of natural amphitheatre. Seated, standing and milling about on the hillside were a variety of animals, and, as it turned out, insects, too. And, I thought I saw a cat. There were groups of deer clustered about fires. Torches burned, six, seven feet high forming a rough square on what would have been the stage at the base of the hill.

The deer lowered his head, knelt on his front legs and I dismounted unsteadily. The ground beneath my bare feet was soft, cool and mossy, it felt like a moist blanket and as I walked upon it, my internal disarray evaporated. I felt calm, relaxed, almost at home, despite the fact that the scene before me continued to present bizarre images very un-home-like. A group of raccoons near the stage were the first to notice me and they began chattering amongst themselves, pointing at me with their little arms and sharp claws. One of them ran off in the other direction, climbing the amphitheatre’s hillside until I lost track of him amidst the crowd and confusion.

I took it all in. The deer stood next to me.

“Pretty cool, huh?” he said.

“Yeah,” was all I could muster. I noticed a low mound that described the circumference of the stage, at the back of which, the side facing the amphitheatre was a smaller hill, a miniature version of what stood opposite. On closer inspection I could see rows of snakes, a cloud of bugs hovered over them, walking closer still I saw slugs, giant yellow banana slugs, leopards and mossbacks, salamanders, too. Frogs hung from blackberry vines, thousands of little green amphibians resting on and clutching new blossoms as if they were life-rafts. Fighting a tingling revulsion, I stooped down to see beetles and pillbugs swarming and squirming all over each other by the millions in an orgiastic mass. The light of the lamps from the back line of the stage behind me lit the sight before me and illuminated now, in shadow, crawling on the skin of the writhing rising snakes, which stood cobra-like as if waiting to strike although in rhythm, they swayed to some vaguely heard music, and on their skin silhouetted in the torchlight was a line of spiders. They crawled up and over the swaying snakes marching in unison, lockstep.

Behind me I heard a commotion. I turned to see a great black bear come bounding down the hill, leaping over fires and scattering groups of possum, raccoon and deer alike.

“What’s the meaning of this?!” he shouted before he had even walked around the stage. Through the rows of flames I could see his glaring eyes, wrinkled fur around his muzzle, the spittle flying out as he roared in my direction.

My deer began trembling. “Oh, oh,” he muttered.

“Who brought this guy here?!” the bear bellowed, slowing to an angry walk now, his muscles bouncing as he made his way around the stage. He approached us, stood on his hind legs so I had to tilt my head back to look into his eyes, yet I couldn’t hold their gaze for long. Neither could the deer, he bent over the mossy stage floor, absently pawing the ground, hoping, I supposed, to go unnoticed. By doing so, though, he only succeeded in making himself even more noticeable. Every eye and antennae in the place was tuned on the bear.

“You! Deer!” the bear glowered at the deer’s neck. “What’s up with this?!?!” his massive paw pointed threateningly in my direction. It was as big as my head.

“Well,” the deer mumbled, still looking down.

“Look at me!”

The deer did, sheepishly.

“Did you bring him here?!”

“Um, yeah.”

“Jesus Fucking Christ! How many times do I have to tell you assholes we don’t want any fuckin’ people here.” He turned to the crowd assembled before him on the grade, “Listen, folks, the next stupid fuck to bring a human here is going to have to answer to me. No more of this crap!”

He returned to all four paws. He gave me a condescending once over, then turned and walked away. “You! Possum,” I heard him say, and saw him point in the direction of a circle of creepy-looking pink-snouted creatures. “Dose him up.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered to the deer.

“Don’t worry about it,” the deer whispered back, “He’s a big blowhard, wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

I didn’t quite believe him. “Hey, what did he mean when he said, ‘dose him up’.”

Before the deer could answer, the designated possum waddled up to me. “Here,” he said thrusting a waxy orange wafer in my direction.

I leaned down and took it from his dirty claws. It was wavy, like a warped record, though not nearly round, it’s scalloped edges felt smooth in my fingers. It had not been cut or molded I thought as I stood and examined it in the flickering firelight.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked.

“Eat it, you ignorant prick, what else would you do with it.”

What else indeed. I turned and looked at the deer, he nodded in assent, calmly, with a little smile showing at the corners of his mouth so I felt a bit reassured but also a bit pressured. I looked back down at the possum, who looked back up impatiently. “Well…we’re waiting,” he said sharply. The deer, too, gave another nod of his head, urging me to take it. I’ve always been a sucker for deer pressure. I put it in my mouth.

“Chew it well and Don’t throw it up!” said the possum.

Great. It was not warm, it wasn’t soft, nor particularly hard, it wasn’t sweet or bitter, it wasn’t much like anything and after five seconds of chewing it felt as if I wasn’t chewing anything at all. I made the motion of swallowing, but I might as well have been swallowing a gas for all I felt floating down my throat.

I raised my arms and looked back and forth between possum and deer, as if to say, “All gone.” Then I turned to the crowd on the hillside and a dull roar rose in front of me as if they were cheering my swallowing. I felt good. It was the first time I had been applauded for taking a drug.

Eventually, everyone stopped paying attention to me, and deer and I started walking through the crowd towards his friends. I followed his bobbing brown tail as there wasn’t room to walk side by side. Fantastic sights surrounded me. In addition to the groups of animals on the ground, the trees were filled with all types of birds and squirrels and chipmunks. There were crows and robins, seagulls and starlings; woodpeckers even, perched in pairs. They were all clustered like to like, one tree filled top to bottom with sparrows, the next with hawks.

Grayish balls hovered in the air. I thought at first they were smoke, yet they moved side to side, up and down, diagonally even. As we walked under one I could hear a buzzing, and I saw these were groups of bees and hornets, yellowjackets.

I returned to the less inspiring view of my friendly deer’s ass, his ears perked straight up as he stepped cheerily towards ten or 11 lounging deer. There were males and females, antlered and not. A few fawns but mostly adults, the largest and most impressively antlered of which stood as we stepped into their circle.

“Good work, schmuck,” he snapped at my deer. I do not think his name was Schmuck.

“Relax,” he said. “You saw him get dosed. It’s no problem.”

“’No problem, no problem’. It’s always the same with you.” And he looked disapprovingly at my deer. Four big brown eyes locked momentarily and then lit up as they both broke into smiles.

“Whatever,” said the big deer, laughing. Then he turned to me and said, “Enjoy the show.” My deer looked back at me, grinning broadly.

“Is this great, or what?”

“It’s pretty amazing,” I said.

Just then a hush fell over the clearing, all twittering, chattering and buzzing stopped. Even the crackling fires seemed hushed.

“What’s up,” I whispered to the deer.

“Look up,” he said with a nod towards the sky. Way in the ether, minute specks crossed in front of the full moon. More and more became visible as they grew larger and more distinct. Circling birds, massive wingspans, taut and tottering as they steered themselves closer and closer to the ground below. They never reached the ground, though. One by one they found perches atop the tallest trees until the last, the largest, the most impressive, slowly, carefully circled and descended in a flapping of wings and tailfeathers onto the tallest tree, which stood directly behind the stage, dead center.

When he went motionless the amphitheatre erupted in motion, sound and excitement filled the air. The festival, this St. Midvernal solstice, or whatever my silly deer friend thought it was called, had officially begun.

Chirrupping started slowly, pianissimo, from the small birds, one tree adding to the next, followed by the chirps and squeaks of the tree-rats, I looked for them and they stood in rows with their asses to the assemblage, chipmunks and squirrels flicking their bushy tails in time to the symphony. Shrieking seagulls and a percussive caw caw cawing from the crows were quickly augmented and deepened by a lowing bass, the usually disturbing, belching rutting calls of the deer were now coordinated and oddly mellifluous mixed with the background of countless ribbeting frogs and the rest of this animal music. The crescendo was reached with the banging of metal trash can lids. The raccoons paraded in step towards and around the flaming stage, in teams of two they worked these crude cymbals, one holding the lid the other striking it with a golf club, old rusty irons.

Forming a second concentric ring around the stage were the possums each holding dinner plates of various shades and sizes in one hand, and a single chopstick in the other with which they beat out a staccato pulse, not dissimilar to my own, my blood coursing mambo-style through my veins as my ear heard these rhythms and joined in un-asked or, on reflection, asked, perhaps, by my “dose”.

With the possums and raccoons doing clockwise and counterclockwise circuits around the stage, at some unseen signal, the gray squirrels and the brown chipmunks clamored out of the trees and entered the fired square. They organized themselves quickly into a sort of quadrille, their numbers dancing each with each and then alternating intermixing around the stage, creating the effect of an earth-toned kaleidoscope, yet instead of dead crystals, living fur made up the ever-moving design.

I watched and waited for the next remarkable thing when from out of the sky came a piercing cry. An eagle was plummeting, careening, wings pinned back, beak thrust forward in an attitude I fully believed meant the death of something, squirrel, mouse or that small raccoon positioned inside the square. Flapping his wings and lowering his talons, the eagle landed in a spot quickly vacated by the frantically exiting rodent dancers.

With a puffed up chest and the air of a conquering hero, the eagle cleared his throat and prepared to address the crowd.

This bird looked familiar.

He hopped around the stage a bit checking out the scene from the level of the common beast, then he raised his eyes and his voice which easily reached to the farthest reaches of the amphitheatre, even to the cheap seats where the field mice and moles sought glimpses through telescopes cobbled together from soda bottles, compact mirrors and old eyeglasses, most missing a lens yet oddly appropriate up there amidst the riff-raff and refuse.

“It is with great pleasure that I welcome you here today,” smatterings of words came out in monotone and in one breath, so that the first ended with ‘pleasure’ then ‘you’ then ‘today’. The effect left the listening in the utmost expectation of the next phrase, like the anxious recipient of a Morse code message.

“Our great friend, up there watching us, he too is happy we have been able to get together again.”

Chirps and shouts, howls and tumult, nary a catcall, greeted these words, as all present seemed to shout their assent, raising paw, wing and forelock skyward in salute.

It was then, at that very moment when uniformity seemed complete, that I noticed, and though it may sound improbable in such a diverse, eclectic setting, what I noticed was immediately incongruous. There sat, neither shouting nor meowing his agreement, neither raising paw nor wagging tail in any formal signal of allegiance, there sat, and you may have surmised it already, there sat – a cat. He sat calmly smoking a cigar, oblivious to the brouhaha surrounding him, and he was surrounded. He sat in the very center of the hill, the best seat in the house, one might say. He was directly opposite the great eagle that perched still atop that massive red cedar. He appeared to be flipping through some papers, a green eyeshade on his head. At one point he pulled a short pencil from behind his ear and jotted down some notes.

Back on the stage, the eagle continued, “We must never forget,’ breathy pause, “why it is” breathy pause “we began” breathy pause “assembling like this.”

Again a roar of assent, absent a cat’s.

“So, without further ado, LET THE BATTLE BEGIN!” He shrieked and lifted off as the last word left his mouth and echoed around him as he rose to his spot in the trees, next to, but not above, the Alpha Eagle.

“Battle?” I was puzzled. In all the craziness, in the approach, entrance, even in my brief, intimidating encounter with the bear there had been the undercurrent of a festival, carnival, in short, a party. So, what was this talk of a “battle”?

Sure enough, though, as soon as the eagle had left the field, teams of raccoons scurried around the stage, which, I could see now, was not a stage at all, well not in the theatrical sense – it was a ring! I mean to say, a boxing ring. Two teams assembled kitty-corner, they stood around a short stool. From the far side of the woods, cheering began, and a ruckus ensued, a moving ruckus, and as this roiling wave approached it was clear there was one figure at the center of it all. Stepping carefully but calmly, and wrapped in a bath towel upon which had been crudely emblazoned the single word “Rocky”, a raccoon of immense size stepped between two torches held apart by those in his entourage and he confidently entered the ring. Arms held, relatively, high to receive the cheers erupting now in the entire stadium. No sooner had the cheering subsided than a new round of shouts and caterwauling began emanating from the woods on the other side of the ring. A similar parade progressed to the other corner where a noticeably smaller, albeit, visibly muscular, raccoon, arriving with much less fanfare, removed his towel, a towel upon which one could only read, were one close and equipped with one of the moles oracular magnifiers, the words “Property of Holiday Inn”.

The two raccoons danced around the ring, throwing short jabs, and, well, mostly they just threw short jabs, it was really all their bodies could muster.

A raccoon wearing a fedora moved to the center of the ring. He held a megaphone made from rolled up aluminum siding in one hand, through this cone he now shouted, “Your attention please!”

The crowd stilled. It was in this stillness that I began feeling unwell, or rather, it became harder for me to focus on what exactly was happening. I remember the introductions, the scrappy challenger was indeed known as “Kid Holiday” although no one was certain why he took that name.

The fight itself was a blur. I saw nothing that looked even vaguely violent. Frankly, it appeared the two raccoons were doing a comic representation of a boxing match, like they’d seen one on TV, but didn’t quite understand the purpose, or maybe couldn’t believe what they had seen was real. There was so much cartoon violence they had witnessed through the windows of those humans’ homes, they refused to accept the fact that people really did that to each other, so they had created this innocuous facsimile.

In between rounds, buxom deer and possum and raccoon carried around street signs on the back of which were spraypainted the number of the next round. So, one half of the crowd would see “4,” “5,” “6,” and the other half “Speed Limit 35 MPH,” “Not a Through Street” and “Yield”.

At one point, I looked over at the cat. His green eyeshade hung low as he consulted his notes, and he still had a nub of the cigar wedged into the corner of his mouth. He looked up and I saw he was very pleased with himself, a wry smile slanted beneath his pinkish triangular nose. He was quite an impressive feline, although it did appear he’d seen better days. His light brown fur was matted in parts, and, one could not be certain that at some point, it might have been white, like it was dirty or poorly dyed.

The match had come to some sort of a conclusion. I hadn’t been paying close attention to the clownish flops and wild swings the raccoons interspersed in their minstrel show dancings. Somehow, though, Kid Holiday had dropped Rocky raccoon onto his back. He laid there still, absolutely still, while The Kid pranced around the ring. I would have worried for his well-being; however I noticed Rocky sneak a sly peak to watch his competitor, partner, so-conspirator or whatever The Kid was to Rocky. He snuck a peak and I could have sworn I saw a smile.

A group of possums came out of the woods carrying a litter of tree branches and boughs of cedar between them. The crowds parted silently to let them pass. They set their makeshift stretcher down next to where Rocky had fallen, where he lay prone and motionless, and with great effort they lifted him onto the stretcher. A few raccoons from his corner had to help. Several torches were lifted out of the ground and carried before and beside Rocky’s horizontal-ness as the smaller animals labored in their roles as “pallbearers”. The procession did look like a funeral, the last goodbye to a fallen warrior. All that was needed was someone at the head of the recession holding a bible above his head.

During this spectacle, I noticed the eagle announcer had left his perch and was circling again above the crowd. Noiselessly, he descended, passing over the heads of all present, scattering a throng of bees. It seemed only I saw him, though, that is, other than the bees. As he passed near me, he glanced in my direction, it’s hard to tell in those nanoseconds what one really sees, but as his arc past me, I thought he too registered that flash of recognition I felt. He made one more circle, looked again in my direction then plunged down into the crowd, swooping silently, his talons extended, his target became apparent. The cat was unaware he was a target, still shuffling papers and watching Rocky’s departure. In an instant he was gone. One moment there was a cat, the next only a smoldering cigar butt, and a green-eye shade amidst a handful of scraps and fur.

The eagle ascended quickly, flapping his powerful wings just twice and he was gone, disappeared into the woods, a fuzzy ball clasped in his claws, little furry brown legs flailing beneath the eagle’s feathered belly.

I looked around to see if anyone else had seen this, it seemed this abduction went unnoticed, or, at least, no one let on that they had noticed. Perhaps they all were complicit. I searched for my deer. He was loitering around the fire with his buddies, laughing, joking, clapping others on the back with his cloven hoof. Possums placed orange doses on the deer tongues, they moved on from group to group dispensing their wares, like beer vendors at a baseball game.

I was forgotten, superfluous. Then I grew frightened, for two reasons. First, I needed to get home. I had no shoes, no clear idea of where I was, and, honestly, felt drunk as a skunk. Second, I was the only outsider left. With the cat gone, that oddly anomalous housecat, I remained, the last anomaly. I stuck out like a sore thumb, a sore opposable thumb, you might say.

I decided to leave. All turned around and not knowing which way was home, I headed towards where the eagle had flown off with the cat.