Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wardrobe Malfunction

I’m thinking of those that may have had a rough day. If this doesn’t bring a smile perhaps the foul mood is terminal.

I never connected wardrobe malfunction and cooking. Perhaps if I was forced to, my choice would have been Rachael Ray, but we must take what life gives us. I’m convinced a ‘sassy southern girl’ is likely much more prepared to deal with it. Even if you question Paula’s cooking prowess, it’s difficult not to love her spirit. Perhaps we should take notice of how she handles the situation; if life ‘shucks your drawers’ all you can do is ‘hike ‘em up’ and carry on smartly. Now you know you’re momma wasn’t just whistlin’ Dixie when she told you to wear clean underpants!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Waning Tides

How did we drift apart?
Two souls intertwined
The sharing of one heart
Convergence of a mind

With you I felt complete
Fuller than before
Yet I was giving less
You were giving more

Your grace fine as silver
Meant for serving Kings
I am but a pauper
Doomed to lesser things

My half not near enough
I’ll take that to the grave
Alone I swam too far
For even you to save

I used to see forever
As we gazed beyond the swell
But eyes I thought were mine
Belonged to you as well

Farewell my angel dear
I must set you free
Free to find the man
That I could never be

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Albert now had a pretty good understanding as to why curiosity killed the cat. The single item he discovered was quite possibly the reason the inventor of the bed made a dark, dusty underside. Albert had done a multitude of stupid things in his life, but stumbling upon his parent’s photo album suddenly vaulted to the forefront. A multi-colored flower on the cover seemed innocuous enough, but quickly Albert learned that dark tumultuous things can lurk under the cover of sparkling wrap.

His palms grew sweaty, his right eye began to twitch, and briefly he considered gouging it out as his painful heritage lay before him in the unlikely form of a gaudy collage. All of his friends and co-workers came from Hoboken, Queens, and the Bronx, but it seems as though Albert Eugene Finster had deep roots in Woodstock.

Unabashed, his father flashed the peace sign while sporting a pale blue captain’s hat and nothing else. His mother rode a wave of hands, seemingly a covert way to invite strangers to cop a feel. Albert knew little of Woodstock, but it soon became obvious that those seeking freedom traveled in hand-painted buses. The pictures themselves were shocking enough, but the captions written beneath opened Albert’s mind to an entirely different level of disgust.

Under the watchful eye of many things, karma and illicit substances being most prominent, with foresight and discretion missing completely; his parents chose the van in the lower left hand corner as the romantic den where they would unleash their animalistic passion. Albert could only image that between bouts of passing the bong and grotesque displays of unthinkable things, in the haze that became Woodstock, a ‘flower child’ was conceived.

The photo in the lower right captured several acquaintances made along the journey to find themselves. Names like moon-flower and free-dog were scribbled beneath. He had no idea if even a single one of them ever found what they were looking for, but Albert was now convinced he had found some of the answers he sought.

Albert hadn’t asked to be a freak, but perhaps his inception in a rocking V.W. van spoke volumes. His mind worked on a different level than most, even his computer-geek peers at the office considered him odd. Instead of counting sheep at night, hexadecimal conversions of I.P. addresses swirled in his head.

Although the sales personnel laughed at the water cooler they recognized a good thing when they stumbled upon it. Hovering over him they spewed out their newest proposal and he would fire back accurate details so quickly they barely had time to record them. He could take an entire map of a network and within seconds could estimate the throughput between devices with a margin of error of less than a megabyte, and really, what’s a million bytes per minute between friends.

Not even his boss could appreciate the vastness of his knowledge, evidenced by the lack of a raise for the third consecutive year. Albert almost wished he hadn’t overheard Mr. Liu’s words, but you can’t unring a bell. There had been a long tirade of Chinese words he could not decipher, but the final blow came in English and rang much too clear. “Round-eye already take too many of my dollar!”

The smell of technology sickened him; he reeked of it. Virtual servers, paged memory; everything he dealt with was fake and birthed from a concept in some dope-smoking programmers mind. When did a Blackberry cease to be something sweet and left seeds stuck between your teeth?

Today he would walk away, but not before he deleted the entire SAN, each and every file of extended storage. Albert removed the log entries indicating he had changed the rights on Mr. Liu’s account. Anyone hired to investigate the dreadful loss would be left scratching their heads, wondering why Mr. Liu had deleted his own critical data.

Albert stared past the computer monitor to the other side of the street. The new high-rise had begun to take shape and the work zone buzzed with activity. Foul-mouthed foremen barked out their orders. As barbaric as it seemed the bosses knew what it took to get things done. In the construction world, pussy-footing around only resulted in missed deadlines, and getting those stanchions poured was all that mattered on this particular today. Loading a pile of bricks into a wheelbarrow and transporting them from one location to another held a strange simplistic appeal. The ashes from a half-smoked cigarette drooped while the operator’s muscles involuntarily contracted with the predictable pulsing of the jackhammer. The trowel of a mason performed as a paintbrush in the hands of a skilled artist.

Albert Eugene Finster was not a hippie, but labeled by the world as a freak; one that had not yet found himself. He spellchecked his resignation e-mail, added his electronic signature, and pressed send.

Tossing his leather binder in the nearest trash can he walked across the street. With confidence he approached the man wearing a white hardhat. His presence was greeted with a scowl, barely visible behind a stub of a cigar protruding from the foreman’s square jaw. The man ripped another chunk from the soggy mess and with the precision of a laser bounced it off Albert’s right shoe. “What can I help you with, pretty boy?”

Albert smiled, “I’m looking for work, and before you ask, minimum wage is fine.”

Sunday, February 15, 2009


He wrestled with the tarp in the seclusion of his garage. Beneath it laid an eerie likeness that sent shivers down his spine. Stan Kilmer traced the lines of the hood with his finger. Dual black racing stripes still meant business; as if 383 cubic inches didn’t have a voice of its own. The ’69, canary-yellow Road Runner was pristine and every detail transformed him back to September of 1989.

Since then a strict adherence to isolation had provided no answers and like a rattlesnake in a glass jar, his mind began to vilify things not inherently evil. After two decades on the run he remained convinced of only one thing; no one can effectively change his future without first reconciling his past.

As the car idled in the driveway he went back to lock the garage. Not that anything of value remained there, but such a road trip as this had no itinerary. He had intended on leaving while the world still slept, but Mrs. Stuckey was an early riser. She appeared startled as she stood on her lawn, perhaps surprised by the appearance of a recluse. Stan had built no rapport in the neighborhood and felt no obligation to make a positive first impression. Her posture indicated a lack of appreciation for the choppy sound of a mild cam. He held steady on the brake and pressed the accelerator until the rear tires broke loose. An exaggerated wave and smile from him only intensified her displeasure, but white smoke from the tires soon formed a wall between the two.

Like a shot the car raced to end of the cul-de-sac. As the tach crowded five grand and slid around the corner Stan surprised himself by how quickly he found second gear. With a slight chirp of the tires and without a sliver of remorse he leaned hard on the accelerator heading towards open road.

Cars from this era were born to gobble up pavement in quarter mile meals, but much like a sprinter who fades in an endurance race, the handling and comfort could only be described as substandard. Stan wanted to feel the road beneath him, enduring every bump that he had banned from his narrow world.

The rural scenery had changed dramatically but as he approached, subtleties of the landscape fed his internal compass. An empty and crumbling foundation was all that remained of Todd’s home. Stan might have driven right past if not for the tree. A mighty oak still stood guard at the back of the lot and had resisted the corrosive nature of time.

Stan turned his head skyward, staring past the limbs to the tree-house perched above. He tested the wooden ladder with a shake. Several inches in height and an undisclosed amount in weight were certain to have skewed the equation, but Stan had never been adept at calculating odds—not then and not now. Yet he hadn’t driven twenty-two hundred miles to back out on a technicality.

The breeze whistled through the stand of pines just as he remembered. Amidst their lonesome song he found his best friend’s voice taunting him. Even then Stan feared heights, but with the lashing of a drill sergeant and the unquestionable smoothness of James Dean, Todd’s voice would prevail as he stared down at him.

“I didn’t know they piled shit that high! Put on your big-girl pants, Staaanley. I’ve got the September issue of Playboy up here and the Van Breeschooten twins can’t wait forever. If you ain’t up to it just say so. I’m man enough to send ‘em both away smiling!”

Todd was always the confident one, seemingly in control of all things. At sixteen years of age, neither of them could fathom a circumstance where his firm belief in self could ever fail—but it would, and Stan still hated he was there to see it.

He reached the final rung and stepped in; his eyes immediately darted to the corner where Todd invariably sat. Long and lanky with a stolen pack of Lucky Strikes, lifted from his old man, setting within arms reach. Un-inhaled smoke burst from his mouth in puffs as he spoke.

“So what’s the plan, Stan?”

Words so crystal clear and the laughter of teens trailed off into nothingness. Only painful silence filled the void. Like an unwanted squatter, only a shadow occupied Todd’s space, but even it seemed uncomfortable there, nervously moving with the breeze. Out of the emptiness came a voice.

“I knew you’d come back, but what took so long?”

The familiarity of the tone could not be denied, but only a dark shadow hovered in the corner.

“You always did let other’s expectations rule you. What? If you talk to me people will think you’re crazy? Earth to Stan; there ain’t nobody here! Didn’t you come to talk me anyhow?”

After a small hesitation he dismissed the voice to imagination and fell to his knees. Stan searched the floorboards until he found the one containing no nails and retrieved the contents hidden beneath. He wanted to move, but could only stare at the corner.

“Look, Stan, this ain’t some creepy Friday the 13th thing. Come on, grab our stuff and let’s go for a ride.”

Stan shook his head from side to side in short jerky motions, “I don’t—I don’t think that’s a good idea?”

“Yeah, you’re right. Actually it’s a great friekin’ idea. Now come on, let’s go.”

As he walked back to the car Stan continued to glance over his shoulder, but he saw nothing. After settling into the driver’s seat, a sheepish voice slid past his lips, “Are you still here, Todd?”

Several moments passed and there came no response, suddenly Stan felt foolish.

“Will you look at that? After twenty years, Karin Van Breeschooten still can’t get enough of me—but really, can you blame her?”

Stan glanced at the passenger seat where a thin film of dust covered the September, 1989 issue of Playboy. He recalled how Todd had justified getting first choice. Todd assumed the bulk of the risk while the storeowner had his back turned. Although identical in every nuance, he chose Karin, and as a mere accessory to larceny, Stan’s reward was Mirjam. Even in crime they were as inseparable as the twins themselves.

“Fire this thing up, man! I bet balls to the wall she does all of a 140.”

Stan brushed aside the comment about the car’s ability, but did start the engine. As they traveled the back roads Todd eagerly tried to reconnect to a past that Stan couldn’t seem to shake. Stan’s hands, white knuckled at ten and two on the steering wheel, began to shake uncontrollably.

“Come on Stanley, this ain’t daddy’s model ‘T’. Kick it in the ass!”

Todd’s needling produced results, but not what he anticipated. Stan let off the accelerator completely and crept around the curve before a string of venomous words exploded, “All you can talk about is the good times we had.” Pointing out the driver’s side window a distraught Stan continued, “Take a look at this fucking, nasty ravine over here! Does it look familiar to you at all?”

Stan rubbed his hand through his hair and down the back of his neck, massaging as he went.

“You really don’t remember any of it, do you, Todd?”

Stan shook his head and giggled nervously, “Well, what you can’t remember has haunted me every day since. Saturday night September 23rd, 1989. You, me, a fifth of Jack Daniel’s, and a car that looks exactly like this one. Around midnight, all of us set out on these gravel roads with something to prove and our asses on fire. AC/DC was blasting on the radio and I’m certain we were already driving too fast, but when you said ‘kick it in the ass’, I didn’t hesitate. I remember seeing 105 as we crested that rise, but at that precise moment I also remembered the curve and what lay on the other side of it. With brakes locked and gravel flying I fought the steering wheel with all I had. The instant remorse that suddenly consumed me wasn’t even close to being enough to save us. Gravity sucked us over the edge and the car rolled so many times I lost count. Only two things crossed my mind on our downward spiral. I hoped that somehow my parents wouldn’t know we were drinking and I prayed for my own death, so that I would never have to face you.”

With tears racing down his cheeks, Stan looked to the passenger side, “Do you remember now, Todd, and more importantly can you ever forgive me?”

Stan heard what sounded like the clearing of a throat.

“I remembered it all; I just hoped the years had allowed you to forget. You always thought of me as stronger, but you only saw the front put on by a teenager; I knew the truth.

As I lay dying, crushed beneath the weight of the car, you summoned great courage by trying to lift from me. You don’t think I remember the grotesque sound of your biceps ripping from the bone as you struggled against things greater than yourself. Not once did you cry out in pain. Even as the heat from the flames grew, the comfort of your hands beneath my head made my last breaths easier. As the blackness closed in upon me I felt peace; knowing that wherever I was headed I would never find a truer friend.

I’ve enjoyed our visit, Stan. My only regret is that you have suffered so long, worrying about my thoughts of you in my last moments. May your conscience also be at peace. Rest well knowing that even as a boy, you were always the better man.”

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Narrow Gate (Final Chapter)

Coming Home

Another torturous evening has descended upon me. Not only has Althalo failed to arrive, but only an hour prior a messenger delivered yet another burden. It seems a clan belonging to another kingdom has laid camp only miles from our city gate. As of yet their intentions are unknown, but fear among our people is growing. Even those lacking details sense our vulnerability.

Tonight I am honored to share my table with royalty; it is a strange night indeed. During my years of service as wizard to the king I have never known this man that sits across from me. Tonight he wears no robe or crown and his scepter sits idle. These tired eyes and furrowed brow belong to a father consumed with worry for his only son.

As the candle burns low and I prepare to retrieve another, there comes a knock upon my door. The man who stands in my doorway is difficult to describe. Familiar, yet not at all the same as the night we stood together at the narrow gate. Rags of insecurity have been stripped from his body and he is fully clothed in the armor of service and humility. A welcomed sight indeed; and I hope to hear in great detail the adventure that spurned this transformation as well as an introduction to the dwarf standing by his side.

“This is a great night in the history of our kingdom and deserving of equal celebration!”

As father and son are reunited I usher Althalo’s friend towards the cupboard to assist in the preparation of ale.

“I recognize you from the vision, Quintara, but did not anticipate your return here.”

She offered only a wink, “Neither I—but your new king is quite adept at the art of charm and persuasion.”

While the first round sat comfortably in our bellies I filled our cups again. “Tell us Althalo, tell us every gory detail. I shall not sleep until I learn of this three-headed dragon.”

He settled deeper into his chair and my eyes widened as he weaved the tale I had longed to hear.

Our meeting, the dragon and I, came in a state of sub-consciousness, or perhaps a dream; it makes no difference. Watching from a distance I spied a man in a field tilling the ground. He was transparent and my eyes saw his heart brimming with things he loved. He toiled in simple deeds but the sun shone brightly upon him and the birds of the meadow sang sweetly.

After a time I no longer watched, but became the man in the field. The handles of the plow were still warm and freedom flowed from the ground filling every void. My heart would not mind if that moment in time could have endured forever, but quickly the sky turned black and a shadow loomed over me like the clouds of a storm. Stillness in the air gave way to turbulence as the flapping of his thunderous wings caused the ground to tremble. As he drew near a poisonous fear welled within me and for a moment I considered hiding amidst the shadows of the forest. His talons were immense, but if he fancied me in his grasp I should not make his task easy.

Our battle raged for an eternity and more than once I lay wounded, resigned to defeat. The innocence of the meadow crossed my mind as the green hues of life become stained with an unholy mixing of blood; perhaps more of my own than I should attest. Prompted by the expectations of many I stumbled to my feet again. During a final thrashing of beast of man my blade found its cause. I snatched the life from his chest and in the firm grasp of my hand his heart struggled to find a final beat.

On each side of the dragon lay a head; neither recognizable as my sword sliced cleanly through, but once separated from the host his powerful grip over me became obvious. On the left of me lay fear; not in pure form, but the feeling one warrior has for another as they stand together on the front line of battle. A dread that he might not find in himself what is required to defend his friend’s life with the vigor of his own. On the right of the beast lay the hideous head of pride; an abomination that no man wishes to see in himself, while those surrounding him can see nothing else.

While still digesting the dismantling of my own shortcomings, out of the mist rose a second dragon. It clearly did not belong to me, but instead to a part of me that was destined to make me whole. Despite my broken state the passion of ten-thousand men boiled within me, for I knew my own victory meant nothing if this battle ended in defeat.

We clashed in the air, and with a screech that shook the heavens loose, he bore the brunt of my weapon. Lying on the ground wounded, I perched upon his mighty chest. Grasping the hilt with both hands I made ready for a final assault. In the waning hours of day the blade of my sword glowed with a cobalt sheen. With the power of my own slain beast surging through it, I delivered a crippling blow.

Exhausted I fell to the ground. The severed head lay within arms reach and I struggled to pull it near, for I wished to gaze into the glassy eyes of regret that I should never fail to recognize it. A heavy sigh rushed past my lips. In the distance I glimpsed Quintara shaking free of the chains that had so soundly bound her spirit.

She rushed to my side with great urgency and caressed my brow with lingering fingers. The moment her lips touched mine my spirit soared to the heavens. If there are words tender enough to describe our love they have not yet been written. Should they ever take form they will be whispered from the lips of angels.

“Father and King, if it be your wish I shall take the reigns of this kingdom tonight.”

With tearful eyes the elder nodded in affirmation before Althalo continued.

“In this dimly lit chamber, among elite company, I avow my allegiance to this kingdom and my new queen. Until my last breath I shall defend both with my honor.

From this day forward it is my vision that man and dwarf may serve side by side and my solemn duty to see that not even the least in my kingdom shall face their dragon alone, but that we might as a whole bring a united force against any foe that should seek to limit the potential of this great and blessed land.”

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Narrow Gate (Continued)

Slaying of Demons

Althalo woke with a stiffness deep in his bones, unquestionably the result of a restless night spent curled on a ledge. After leaving Warez at the gate he did not wander long before seeking shelter. He settled for a dark nook among the rocks where a man in a foreign land could go unnoticed.

As dawn became day he was taken by the desolate and mountainous terrain that stretched before him. No fields, forests, or creatures; not a single sign of life. Warez had spoken plainly about seeking assistance, but in a landscape where obscurity lay nestled among nothingness where should this journey begin and where might it end?

His father had emphasized traversing the path, so Althalo set out upon the winding road in search of Quintara. Like a spider’s web, deep crevices shattered the surface of the path and plumes of dust swirled with each plodding step. As his weight shifted from one foot to the other he could almost hear the mournful cries from a land languishing in a perpetual state of thirstiness. The sun climbed further into its journey across the sky and scorching rays dealt angrily with that below.

A few precious drops of water dripped from his chin as he pushed the cork back into the skin. He stretched and allowed his body the luxury of soaking up the coolness from the rock that supported him. Somewhere between consciousness and the place a mind drifts he observed a slight noise, but it was trivial in nature and did not warrant the opening of his eyes. Perhaps only the sigh of a boulder as it baked helplessly in the heat. As he slipped further from reality he experienced a slight pressure on his leg, but dismissed it as cramping in his calves. When the annoyance returned a second time it felt more like a deliberate tug and without warning a vision of a great dragon appeared before him.

Althalo unsheathed his sword and scrambled to his feet in a single fluid motion. Before thoughts became coherent his sword was swatted from his hand and his body struck the ground with surprising force. His spirit wilted as he felt the pressure of a boot in his chest. The sickening sound of his only defense clanking against the stones reverberated in his ears. He blinked in an attempt to merge two distinct sets of images that floated before him, with little expectation other than to clearly view the slashing teeth before they ripped into his flesh.

“How is it that you hold any hope of defeating a dragon when a dwarf such as I should separate you from your weapon like an infant from a mother’s breast?”

Shoulder-length blonde hair did little to dull her harsh words or the weathered and wrinkled face it surrounded. Pale blue eyes twinkled with curiosity as a twisted smile overpowered her lips. Raucous laughter filled the air as she offered her hand. Displaying the strength of a warrior twice her size she snatched him onto his feet. Althalo hung his head, lingering longer than needed to chase the dust from his clothing. Upon retrieving his sword she admired it a moment before placing it into his eager hand.

“Shall I assume you are Quintara?”

The top of her head barely reached his belt as they now stood on equal ground, but there was no doubt her spirit belied a miniature stature.

“I believe assumptions have landed you squarely on your back, Sire; perhaps it wiser to rely upon facts. I am indeed Quintara and you are the soon to be ruler of a kingdom.”

He knelt on one knee and as he pressed his lips gently against the back of her tiny hand.

“I am deeply offended that your game should separate rules for humans and dwarves? ‘Soon to be ruler’, barring assumptions would leave me simply as Althalo.”

The attention of his lips brought a rosy hue to the apples of her cheeks.

“Your charm may sway maidens and dwarves, but dragons are not so easily impressed.”

Althalo moved his hand to a leather bag attached to his belt. The rhythmic rustling of coins accompanied his words.

“Warez has directed me here. In my own mind I question how it is that a dwarf should know about such things as dragons, yet I trust his wisdom. He has advised I enlist your assistance in this battle I seek. How much will it take to secure your allegiance?”

Quintara smiled and invited him to sit with her.

“You have much to learn about dwarves and dragons. While gold can buy many things, my allegiance is not for sale. It stirs within my core, and is already pledged to you, Althalo.”

He did not comprehend the loyalty she displayed, but sensed genuine sincerity in her voice.

“And what advice can you offer in the way of dragons?”

The corners of her mouth drooped and the sparkle in her eyes turned cold like embers of fire left unattended. She gazed across the horizon and began to reveal a painful tale.

What you see before you used to be lush and alive, but now I alone must bear the brunt of barrenness. I should have become queen of this kingdom; it was my destiny. Yet I refused to answer my own dragon’s call. Many times he summoned me to the battlefield, but each time I fled. Putting my own personal desire above the masses has now brought unbearable sorrow and regret.

Without a strong leader this kingdom was overtaken by marauders. A mighty clan of dwarves, once numbering in the thousands, has dwindled to merely a dozen. Now we cower in dark places and are forced to live underground like animals. Do not let this happen to your land, Althalo.

These mighty dragons Warez and your father sent you to defeat, they are of your own creation. Every one of us has dragons to face. Our inability or unwillingness to meet them eye to eye only feed their spirit until they become colossal. Each fiery breath is a direct challenge we must defend against or eventually we become the beast.

There is great satisfaction in serving and leading others. I recall seeing it in my father’s eyes as he sat upon the throne, and it was a thing of beauty. Although those chosen for such high purposes must defeat their own demons before they step in and can assume the burdens of those they lead. As much as I wish it were so, Althalo, I cannot physically assist you in this battle. It is your own. Do not waste your time seeking the beast; he will come for you soon enough, but also do not hesitate even for a second when he challenges.

He stared across the empty horizon, absorbing what could have been.

“Your eyes have seen many things and they have made you wise. Once I’ve defeated my own challenges where should I find you? A king would be honored to have such counsel at his disposal.”

Quintara stood, their eyes locked for a quiet moment.

“It is best you return your land and your people and I return to mine. The few that remain need my service. It is all that I can offer them. Someday in a kingdom far from here, the name Althalo will become great. I shall carry with me the peace of knowing I spoke with him.”