CLAUS VS. CORPORATE PERSONHOOD

SANTA CLAUSE ACCUSED OF NOT TAKING PAY FOR DELIVERY FEES

by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2014

 

Santa Claus

 

Claus checked his ledgers in Quickbooks. It was not a task he enjoyed.

He fondly remembered the days when the smoke encircled his head like a wreath. He quit smoking a pipe a decade or two ago, but he still missed the pungent aroma of his tobacco. What he did not miss was the sore tongue and hacking cough he would often get.

When Christmas was taken over by the corporate gift manufacturers he had shaken his head and withdrawn in total disbelief.  “How could they corner the market on gifts so quickly,” Claus remembered saying.

He had long since had to retire much of his elf force. The elves just could not compete with the prices the corporations charged for general gifts of all shapes and sizes. Soon metal toys replaced his home-made-by-elfen-hands wooden toys.

As if that were not bad enough, the metal toys makers cut back on production and the plastic toy makers flooded the market with every size and shape of plastic toys that were conceivable. The oil cartel would not sell the oils for making plastics to the North Pole Charitable Organization, St. Nicholas, Proprietor.

For Claus, these were perilous times.

One day a group of corporate lawyers met with Claus to discuss the possibility of his contracting for delivery for their orders.

“We will allow you to charge a delivery fee,” they proposed. “It could be a very big deal for you. Remember, you are not getting any younger. Long term care is expensive and we can sell you insurance for that out of the money you charge for delivery of our goods.”

Claus had to think about that: a delivery fee for Santa. Extraordinary, to be sure, but in step with the times. Tradition breaking.  But these are times to try a person’s pocket book.

When he examined his ledger on Quickbooks, he could easily see that he had been running at a loss for almost five hundred years.  “Why, then,” he thought, “would I need long-term care insurance? These men must think me to be a sucker.”

“If they keep it up, the way it is going,” Claus thought, “then I may as well retire. They do not understand that the gifts were not what I delivered. I delivered the love that made the gifts, not the gifts themselves. It has always been so, as long as my spirit has been around. If love no longer makes the gifts, then my delivery is in vain.”

The corporate lawyers did not agree with Claus. “Love” they said, “was a personal thing and the corporations are personal, therefore what they made was made with love, as Clause has admitted that love is what he delivered to persons like the corporations.”

Clause could not quite follow their logic.

Of course, the debate ended up in court.

The parties were forced to define some kind of argument for a favorable judgment. Who had been injured? Who had been financially cheated? What was the duty, if any, for Claus?”

Claus argued that because he had been working gratis of his own free will, there was no loss at all.

The corporations argued that Claus could not have a monopoly on love giving, that they were entitled to give love as well and could do it better than an old white guy that does not appeal to the Muslim and the Buddhist nor the Hindu faiths, among many others. We, they claimed, have a far better market share in love giving that is good for the world economy as a whole.

The court ruled that corporations were better fitted to distribute love than The North Pole Charitable Organization, St. Nicholas, Proprietor.

Claus retired, forced out by world non-opinion and legal issues.

Due to his eternal nature, he still distributed his love where it is most needed.

Let us hope he is not ordered to cease and desist.

 

 


 

 

Originally published at https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Story/6502

Ken at Scriggler: https://scriggler.com/Profile/ken_finton

See also: http://heliosliterature.com

SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS

by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2014

 

SHAKESPEARE

 

Shakespeare’s sonnets make me feel uncomfortable. It is clear that many people who claim to have impeccable taste really profess to love these sonnets. Since I cannot bring myself to love them, I have to admit that either my taste is not impeccable or I have truly missed something of great value. In other words, I am stupid.

A film maker in Denver has made all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets into short video movies starring local Denver actors.  Of course, it is a colossal bore. How could it not be so? William Shakespeare wrote some great plays, but his sonnets can put a Starbucks enthusiast to sleep in minutes.

It did not help that this Sonnet project used local actors that seemed to be unexperienced in Shakespearean theatre. I think, perchance, that nothing stands more amiss than a semi-talented actor spewing forth torrents of Shakespearean verbiage.

The first seventeen sonnets are brimming with advice to breed and propagate the species. Perhaps women liked this in Shakespeare’s day, but in a our crowded world with many women who choose to remain childless, these words cannot possibly fall on appreciable ears.

Example:

“From fairest creatures we desire increase

That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die

But as the riper should be time decease

His tender heir might bear his memory.”

Further, Shakespeare is obsessed with his own immortality. Even in one of the best of his sonnets, he holds himself and his verse up as immortal, bigger than nature itself,  more enduring that stone. Yes, his work has lasted for centuries, but I doubt seriously it will outlast stone.

XVII

Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough windes do shake the darling buds of Maie,

And Sommers lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,

And every faire from faire some-time declines,

By chance, or natures changing course untrim’d:

But thy eternall Sommer shall not fade,

Nor loose possession of that faire thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wandr’st in his shade,

When in eternall lines to time thou grow’st,

So long as men can breath or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

I read this and intuitively feel the wonderful play of words, but close examination destroys my capricious mood. What, I ask myself, is more lovely and more temperate than a summer’s day? I can think of nothing at all more lovely.  Maybe a cold beer with a pizza when you are very hungry. Surely, a summer’s day must be more lovely than this fantasy woman of whom he writes.

Yes, I agree, sometimes summer is too cursedly hot and these rough winds that shake these so-called darling buds of May also make me shiver in my shoes. But if I were to tell a girl that she was bound to decline as she ages, she would likely slap my ignominious face. And if I told her that her best chance at immortality lies in the fact that she was recorded in the lines of my poems, I would not be surprised if she hit me in the head with a lamp. I would deserve it, lout that I am.

We all struggle to decipher old Will’s bombastic style. The archaic English, quaint as it might be, hides a dude that spends a lot of time writing sappy verse about his relationship issues.

XXIX

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Modernized and un-sonneted, it might read:

Here I am, disgraced and poverty stricken, invisible to all.

Am I the only one to hear my cry, my outcast misery?

Even God will not listen to my loud complaints,

My shoeless feet propel me on a cursed path

And I can only dream about a richer life

With bosom friends and hopes of silver linings.

So I am left forlorn, devoid of art, bereft of talent.

I find myself despising what I am

Until I think these happy thoughts of you,

That lift me like the song of a lark that rises at sunrise

From this barren earth of mine to sing a hymn at heaven’s gate.

The sweet and gentle love that we once shared

Comes back into my memory again and brings such rebirth

That I would not trade this feeling for a crown.

I becomes apparent that Shakespeare was basically a lonely dreamer with not enough self esteem. Only his illusory fantasies about a perfect love brought him out of his depression and into a manic universe of his own making. Today they would say he had a bi-polar personality.

To me, Shakespeare was a greater play writer than he was a poet. His plays are filled with quotable quips that have peppered our speech for centuries.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend. -Hamlet

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.  

-Macbeth

Yet, even the plays speak in a language that we do not speak. The urge to make them modern has been the fall of many a lame producer. They peel away the age of the setting and substitute the near present, but they leave the stilted words alone as though the Great Almighty made these utterances.

But Shakespeare – bless his pea-pickin’ little heart – gave good advice and this is where he transcends the ages and sparkles like a jewel.

“Better three hours too soon, than a minute too late.” (Many a dead man has made that discovery.)

“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow.” (Though I struggle to find the sweetness in this pain.)

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  (You tell ‘em, Will. These fools think they’re cool.)

“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” (Thinking makes this so as well.)

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” (Aye, said the Scotsman. And they are English to boot.)

“Cowards die many times before their death; the valiant never taste death but once.”  (Many an old soldier loathes that statement.)

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players:” (Timothy Leary thought so.) But then he goes on: “They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”

(This started out great, but leaves me counting ages. Try as I may, I cannot get to seven ages. 1. Infancy, 2. Childhood, 3.Adolescence, 4. Maturity, 5. Middle-aged, and 6. Old.

That is the best I can do. Perhaps the seventh is Infirmity.

 


 

 

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON SCIGGLER https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Opinion/1163

 

 

HOLLY’S BAD DAY

 

 

670px-Get-Over-a-Bad-Day-Step-1-Version-2

 

Her name is Holly.

Just because her name rhymes with jolly, does not mean that she was sunny and joyful on this fateful Sunday.

Most of the day, though, she was jolly.

It was  Christmas Eve and Holly was at her best in that season, but she still managed to have a terrible day.

Her plans were innocent enough. She went to church on Sunday morning as was her custom, then picked up her kitten whom she had named Missy and went to the retirement home to visit her mother. The two went down to the cafeteria for lunch, leaving the kitten to play in her mother’s room.

It began to snow heavily. Holly smiled, as she was in full holiday spirit and the fresh snow made everyone smile. “We will have a white Christmas after all,” they laughed. Missy batted at the sock hanging on the Christmas tree and they spent a pleasant hour talking and watching the antics of the kitten.

Her mother gave Holly a Christmas present wrapped in red foil paper and she picked up the kitten to head for home. She could see her breath in the cold air. She placed the kitten in the old VW Beetle that she had restored, wiped the windows and carefully began the drive home.

Aha, you say … The roads were slick and she had an accident.

No, that is not the way it was.

She needed to fill up with gas, so she pulled into the convenience store and went inside to get a soft drink and potato chips. By the time she came back to the car, the snow had covered the windows again, so she took the brush and cleared away the snow. She stepped around the gas hose to clear the back window, then walked around the Beetle as she merrily brushed away.

Aha, you say. She slipped on the ice, fell and broke her hip. That is what caused her bad day.

No, that is not the way it was either.

She stamped her feet and got back in the car and pulled slowly away from the gas pump. She had not gone more than a few feet before she heard a metallic clunk from the rear of the car. “My God,” she thought, “I forgot to take the hose out of the tank and hang it on the pump.”

Aha, you say.  The gas spilled out all over the ground and caught fire from a static spark she produced when she got out of the car. The entire pump threatened to explode.

No, that is not the way it was either. It was even worse.

The station was equipped with quick release safeties where the hose meets the pump. All that had happened was that the hose had come loose and dragged beside the car. There was not a dent in the Beetle not any damage to the hose. Not a drop of gas was released.

Holly arrived safely at home, placed the car in the garage and went into the house. She remembered that her mother had given her a present, but she had not taken it out of the car. She went to the garage to retrieve it, not aware that she was being followed.

Aha, you say. There was an intruder and he attacked her in the garage. She is about to become one of the twenty-five percent of the women that are molested sometime in their lifetime.

No, that is not what happened either. It was worse than that.

What can be worse than that, you ask?

She quickly got the present, shivered and shut the car door to hurry inside. The car door would not close. She opened it up to see what was keeping it open, but nothing was visible. She shut the door again and glanced down at the floor of the garage.

The kitten lay twisted in the floor, laying in her back, twitching a bit, but still purring.

Ouch, you say. I was not ready for that.

Neither was Holly. She ran to the house to get a towel, wrapped the kitten to keep it warm, called the emergency number at the pet hospital and rushed off to get help for the kitten.

The kitten did not make it to the hospital. It died purring on the seat beside her.

That is terrible, you say.

Yes, it is.

How do you think Holly felt? Self incriminated, a murderer of kittens.

Of course, she was sad.  Of course, she wrung her hands and sighed.

Was it her negligence or the kitten’s curiosity?  She had to think that it was a bit of both.

Is there a bright side to any of this?

There is a legend in a faraway country that every time a kitten dies a brand new human babe is born into the world. If this legend does not exist, it probably should. At times like this we need a little help from our imaginations. We dare not totally extinguish the spark of hope.

The kitten had short, but happy time while yet it lived.

This is a positive.

The kitten will not have to bear the pain of littering nor the shock of neutering. It will not have to spend countless hours on the window sill staring out the window and wishing to chase those birds on the grass.

This is a positive.

Let us leave it at that.

SO MANY ARROWS UNAIMED

Homo est Machina

three-archers-1558.jpg!HalfHD

So many arrows unaimed.
So many mountains unmoved.
So many lights unlit.
So many deeds undone.
So many words unsaid.
So many stories untold.
So many voices unheard.
So many questions unasked.
So many places unknown.
So many books unread.
So many sentences unwritten.
So many theories unproven.
So many minds unsettled.
So many paths untaken.
So many roads untraveled.
So many passions unruled.
So many emotions untamed.
So many ills uncured.
So many needs unmet.
So many hopes unchained.
So many souls unrested.
So many dreams unborn.
So many faces uncared.
So many heroes unnamed.
So many hearts unloved.

View original post

THE WORLD CAME ROARING IN

by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2014

 

 

 

tumblr_n6cd90nHds1rb4mtjo1_1280

When I was very young, I did not know the world.

The world made itself known to me quite gradually,

in small steps that I can now only imagine.

I cannot remember these steps.

They happened before memory was born.

I felt these steps.

Discomfort was a feeling that I learned quickly to correct.

My first feelings were those untenable positions

which caused me to turn away from irritation

into a position of familiarity and contentment.

I kicked and moved to find my snugness

not knowing or caring that my attempt to find relief caused pain to another.

The experience of the world of the womb was lost to me.

The world was making itself known, but I knew nothing of the world.

I knew nothing about myself for I was not a self.

I was as close to bring nothing as I have ever been.

Yet in this nothing there was feeling.

There was touch. There were senses.

I could hear the world making music

and the sounds of the body in which I was immersed.

Because I did not breath, I could not smell.

Because I had no smell, I could not taste.

Because I had no eyes I could not see.

But there was touch and there was sound and there was feeling.

The rest would come later.

The world makes itself known to us slowly.

The distress that I felt at the moment of my birth was sudden and momentous.

I left the familiar world of water and warmth,

felt the pressure of extreme movement that I had never felt before.

The world made me know of constriction and limits.

I felt movement and the pressures of my movement,

then release to an alien place that made me feel misery

I longed briefly to return to what I had forever known

and felt the strange coldness that I had never felt before.

Air replaced water.

I opened my mouth and tasted of the air.

The air forced its way into me and I smelled the horrid stench of it for the first time.

I became so agonizingly uncomfortable that I cried.

Since that first forlorn cry that expressed both my surprise and extreme distress,

the world has continued to make itself known to me.

That process has not changed much.

The instinct to recoil from aggravation and hurt

and return to a known luxury has been retained,

but the added senses produced a curiosity

to know more about that which caused me displeasure.

In giant strides of courage, I accepted some irritation

and began to realize that there was more to everything than I had learned.

Some learning produced not only pleasure,

but sensations that I welcomed with bright smiles.

I knew nothing of time and little of space.

I was immersed fully in the now.

Then I opened my eyes

and the world came roaring in.

PAYING FOR SEX

by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2014

 

rahab2

In the Old West, the first thing the dusty lone stranger did when he got to the muddy streets of the town was clean up a bit and go the saloon. He wanted a drink and companionship. There among the spittoons below the brass railed bar, he could look in the mirror behind the bar and view the buxom ladies who were quite willing to take him upstairs and make love for a reasonable fee.

Prostitution has been recognized and controlled by law for thousands of years. Sumerian records from 2400 BC speaks of kar, the term for a prostitute as a bona fide profession. The code of Hammurabi, in 1780 B.C. Specifically refers to the rights of prostitutes. “179. If a “sister of a god,” or a prostitute, receive a gift from her father, and a deed in which it has been explicitly stated that she may dispose of it as she pleases, and give her complete disposition thereof: if then her father die, then she may leave her property to whomsoever she pleases. Her brothers can raise no claim thereto.”

Theodora, the wife of Justinian, was co-ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire. It is said that she took to harlotry like a duck takes to water. Procopius said that she gave her youth to anyone she met in utter abandonment,” then went on to describe her sexual exploits in detail.

Newsweek published an article in 2011 called “The Growing Demand for Prostitution.” It stated that “Surprisingly little is known about the age-old practice of buying sex, long assumed to be inevitable. No one even knows what proportion of the male population does it; estimates range from 16 percent to 80 percent.”

There are studies and statistics, however, In Cambodia, a whopping 60 to 80% of the men pay for sex. In the United States it falls to 15 to 20%. In Holland, where prostitution is legal and licensed by the government, the percentage is just a little higher that in the United States. In Japan, it is tacitly understood that a business man has the right to join with his associates in a visit to the red light district.

Many Muslims the practice Muta, a temporary marriage contract where the man pays a woman for sexual favors.

There are almost as many reasons for paying for sex as there are occurrences. Many women think that the only reason men pay is because they are too homely or anti-social to strike up a sexual relationship with another.

Some men point to the cost effectiveness of hiring a woman. They bring no emotional baggage to the table, they say. Others seek out what they cannot get at home in their married relationships. For obvious reasons, men in higher income groups spend more on sex than those who struggle to make ends meet.

My own experience, being a part of that 100% that make the male population, is quite limited. I will not go into it now, but I might write a story about this unforgettable experience in the future.

That being said, the energy expended sexual release must have some psychic value and bring some type of change to the life of the participants. One cannot expend energy without changing something. Whether that energy is released for pay or for free, something in nature changes.

Is anything free in nature? Since everything has a value in the human experience, then everything has a price. Even the act of breathing is a form of using energy, but we need to breath if we are to continue living. Breathing is the price of living for us and the cost of breathing is measured in aging.

 

STORIES FOR GRANDKIDS #2

THE DAMNED THING

by Ambrose Bierce (Public domain)

 

 

VALSHE_-_storyteller1

 

 

“So you like scary stories,” her uncle said.

“Yes, I like being scared.”

“Why do you like to be scared, little one?”

“‘cause I do.”

“But why? Does being scared make you feel good?”

“No,” she replied.

“Then why do you like to be scared?”

“‘Cause it makes me feel different.”

“Different how?”

“Different than I am now.”

“Ah, I see,” her uncle said. “It makes you more alive.”

“I pay more attention.”

“That’s what fear does. You concentrate on it.”

“Yes.”

“Then I have a scary story for you. It was written long ago about a monstrous thing that happened.”

“Goodie,” she replied. “Tell me now.”

 

Her uncle  picked up his book and began to read:

 

 

THE DAMNED THING

By Ambrose Bierce

 

The Dammed Thing first appeared in Tales from New York Town Topics on December 7, 1893

 

-1-

ONE DOES NOT ALWAYS EAT WHAT IS ON THE TABLE

 

By the light of a tallow candle, which had been placed on one end of a rough table, a man was reading something written in a book. It was an account book, greatly worn; and the writing was not, apparently, very legible, for the man sometimes held the page close to the flame of the candle to get a stronger light upon it. The shadow of the book would then throw into obscurity a half of the room, darkening a number of faces and figures; for besides the reader, eight other men were present.

Seven of them sat against the rough log walls, silent and motionless, and, the room being small, not very far from the table. By extending an arm any one of them could have touched the eighth man, who lay on the table, face upward, partly covered by a sheet, his arms at his sides. He was dead.

The man with the book was not reading aloud, and no one spoke; all seemed to be waiting for something to occur; the dead man only was without expectation. From the blank darkness outside came in, through the aperture that served for a window, all the ever unfamiliar noises of night in the wilderness–the long, nameless note of a distant coyote; the stilly pulsing thrill of tireless insects in trees; strange cries of night birds, so different from those of the birds of day; the drone of great blundering beetles, and all that mysterious chorus of small sounds that seem always to have been but half heard when they have suddenly ceased, as if conscious of an indiscretion. But nothing of all this was noted in that company; its members were not overmuch addicted to idle interest in matters of no practical importance; that was obvious in every line of their rugged faces–obvious even in the dim light of the single candle. They were evidentlymen of the vicinity–farmers and woodmen.

The person reading was a trifle different; one would have said of him that he was of the world, worldly, albeit there was that in his attire which attested a certain fellowship with the organisms of his environment. His coat would hardly have passed muster in San Francisco: his footgear was not of urban origin, and the hat that lay by him on the floor (he was the only one uncovered) was such that if one had considered it as an article of mere personal adornment he would have missed its meaning. In countenance the man was rather prepossessing, with just a hint of sternness; though that he may have assumed or cultivated, as appropriate to one in authority. For he was a coroner. It was by virtue of his office that he had possession of the book in which he was reading; it had been found among the dead man’s effects–in his cabin, where the inquest was now taking place.

When the coroner had finished reading he put the book into his breast pocket. At that moment the door was pushed open and a young man entered. He, clearly, was not of mountain birth and breeding: he was clad as those who dwell in cities. His clothing was dusty, however, as from travel. He had, in fact, been riding hard to attend the inquest.

The coroner nodded; no one else greeted him.

“We have waited for you,” said the coroner. “It is necessary to have done with this business to-night.”

The young man smiled. “I am sorry to have kept you,” he said. “I went away, not to evade your summons, but to post to my newspaper an account of what I suppose I am called back to relate.”

The coroner smiled.

“The account that you posted to your newspaper,” he said, “differs probably from that which you will give here under oath.”

“That,” replied the other, rather hotly and with a visible flush, “is as you choose. I used manifold paper and have a copy of what I sent. It was not written as news, for it is incredible, but as fiction. It may go as a part of my testimony under oath.”

“But you say it is incredible.”

“That is nothing to you, sir, if I also swear that it is true.”

The coroner was apparently not greatly affected by the young man’s manifest resentment. He was silent for some moments, his eyes upon the floor. The men about the sides of the cabin talked in whispers, but seldom withdrew their gaze from the face of the corpse. Presently the coroner lifted his eyes and said: “We will resume the inquest.”

The men removed their hats. The witness was sworn.

“What is your name?” the coroner asked.

“William Harker.”

“Age?”

“Twenty-seven.”

“You knew the deceased, Hugh Morgan?”

“Yes.”

“You were with him when he died?”

“Near him.”

“How did that happen–your presence, I mean?”

“I was visiting him at this place to shoot and fish. A part of my purpose, however, was to study him, and his odd, solitary way of life. He seemed a good model for a character in fiction. I sometimes write stories.”

“I sometimes read them.”

“Thank you.”

“Stories in general–not yours.”

Some of the jurors laughed. Against a sombre background humor shows high lights.

Soldiers in the intervals of battle laugh easily, and a jest in the death chamber conquers by surprise.

“Relate the circumstances of this man’s death,” said the coroner. “You may use any notes or memoranda that you please.”

The witness understood. Pulling a manuscript from his breast pocket he held it near the candle, and turning the leaves until he found the passage that he wanted, began to

read.

 

-2-

WHAT MAY HAPPEN IN A FIELD OF WILD OATS

“…The sun had hardly risen when we left the house. We were looking for quail, each with a shotgun, but we had only one dog. Morgan said that our best ground was beyond a certain ridge that he pointed out, and we crossed it by a trail through the chaparral. On the other side was comparatively level ground, thickly covered with wild oats. As we emerged from the chaparral, Morgan was but a few yards in advance. Suddenly, we heard, at a little distance to our right, and partly in front, a noise as of some animal thrashing about in the bushes, which we could see were violently agitated.

“‘We’ve started a deer,’ I said. “I wish we had brought a rifle.’

“Morgan, who had stopped and was intently watching the agitated chaparral, said nothing, but had cocked both barrels of his gun, and was holding it in readiness to aim. I thought him a trifle excited, which surprised me, for he had a reputation for exceptional coolness, even in moments of sudden and imminent peril.

“‘O, come!’ I said. ‘You are not going to fill up a deer with quail-shot, are you?’

“Still he did not reply; but, catching a sight of his face as he turned it slightly toward me, I was struck by the pallor of it. Then I understood that we had serious business on hand, and my first conjecture was that we had ‘jumped’ a grizzly. I advanced to Morgan’s side, cocking my piece as I moved.

“The bushes were now quiet, and the sounds had ceased, but Morgan was as attentive to the place as before.

“‘What is it? What the devil is it?’ I asked.

“‘That Damned Thing!’’ he replied, without turning his head. His voice was husky and unnatural. He trembled visibly.

“I was about to speak further, when I observed the wild oats near the place of the disturbance moving in the most inexplicable way. I can hardly describe it. It seemed as if stirred by a streak of wind, which not only bent it, but pressed it down–crushed it so that it did not rise, and this movement was slowly prolonging itself directly toward us.

“Nothing that I had ever seen had affected me so strangely as this unfamiliar and unaccountable phenomenon, yet I am unable to recall any sense of fear. I remember–and tell it here because, singularly enough, I recollected it then–that once, in looking carelessly out of an open window, I momentarily mistook a small tree close at hand for one of a group of larger trees at a little distance away. It looked the same size as the others, but, being more distinctly and sharply defined in mass and detail, seemed out of harmony with them. It was a mere falsification of the law of aerial perspective, but it startled, almost terrified me. We so rely upon the orderly operation of familiar natural laws that any seeming suspension of them is noted as a menace to our safety, a warning of unthinkable calamity. So now the apparently causeless movement of the herbage, and the slow, undeviating approach of the line of disturbance were distinctly disquieting. My companion appeared actually frightened, and I could hardly credit my senses when I saw him suddenly throw his gun to his shoulders and fire both barrels at the agitated grass! Before the smoke of the discharge had cleared away I heard a loud savage cry–a scream like that of a wild animal–and, flinging his gun upon the ground.

Morgan sprang away and ran swiftly from the spot. At the same instant I was thrown violently to the ground by the impact of something unseen in the smoke–some soft, heavy substance that seemed thrown against me with great force.

TheDamnedThingIllustrationByRenoManiquis565

“I was about to speak further, when I observed the wild oats near the place of the disturbance moving in the most inexplicable way. I can hardly describe it. It seemed as if stirred by a streak of wind, which not only bent it, but pressed it down–crushed it so that it did not rise, and this movement was slowly prolonging itself directly toward us.

“Nothing that I had ever seen had affected me so strangely as this unfamiliar and unaccountable phenomenon, yet I am unable to recall any sense of fear. I remember–and tell it here because, singularly enough, I recollected it then–that once, in looking carelessly out of an open window, I momentarily mistook a small tree close at hand for one of a group of larger trees at a little distance away. It looked the same size as the others, but, being more distinctly and sharply defined in mass and detail, seemed out of harmony with them. It was a mere falsification of the law of aerial perspective, but it startled, almost terrified me. We so rely upon the orderly operation of familiar natural laws that any seeming suspension of them is noted as a menace to our safety, a warning of unthinkable calamity. So now the apparently causeless movement of the herbage, and the slow, undeviating approach of the line of disturbance were distinctly disquieting.

My companion appeared actually frightened, and I could hardly credit my senses when I saw him suddenly throw his gun to his shoulders and fire both barrels at the agitated grass! Before the smoke of the discharge had cleared away I heard a loud savage cry–a scream like that of a wild animal–and, flinging his gun upon the ground,

Morgan sprang away and ran swiftly from the spot. At the same instant I was thrown violently to the ground by the impact of something unseen in the smoke–some soft, heavy substance that seemed thrown against me with great force.

prokletinja (1)

“Before I could get upon my feet and recover my gun, which seemed to have been struck from my hands, I heard Morgan crying out as if in mortal agony, and mingling with his cries were such hoarse savage sounds as one hears from fighting dogs. Inexpressibly terrified, I struggled to my feet and looked in the direction of Morgan’s retreat; and may heaven in mercy spare me from another sight like that! At a distance of less than thirty yards was my friend, down upon one knee, his head thrown back at a frightful angle, hatless, his long hair in disorder and his whole body in violent movement from side to side, backward and forward. His right arm was lifted and seemed to lack the hand–at least, I could see none. The other arm was invisible. At times, as my memory now reports this extraordinary scene, I could discern but a part of his body; it was as if he had been partly blotted out–I can not otherwise express it–then a shifting of his position would bring it all into view again.

“All this must have occurred within a few seconds, yet in that time Morgan assumed all the postures of a determined wrestler vanquished by superior weight and strength. I saw nothing but

him, and him not always distinctly. During the entire incident his shouts and curses were heard, as if through an enveloping uproar of such sounds of rage and fury as I had never heard from the throat of man or brute!

“For a moment only I stood irresolute, then, throwing down my gun, I ran forward to my friend’s assistance. I had a vague belief that he was suffering from a fit or some form of convulsion. Before I could reach his side he was down and quiet. All sounds had ceased, but, with a feeling of such terror as even these awful events had not inspired, I now saw the same mysterious movement of the wild oats prolonging itself from the trampled area about the prostrate man toward the edge of a wood. It was only when it had reached the wood that I was able to withdraw my eyes and look at my companion. He was dead.”

 

-3-

A MAN THOUGH NAKED MAY BE IN RAGS

 

The coroner rose from his seat and stood beside the dead man. Lifting an edge of the sheet he pulled it away, exposing the entire body, altogether naked and showing in the candle light a clay-like yellow. It had, however, broad maculations of bluish-black, obviously caused by extravasated blood from contusions. The chest and sides looked as if they had been beaten with a bludgeon. There were dreadful lacerations; the skin was torn in strips and shreds.

The coroner moved round to the end of the table and undid a silk handkerchief, which had been passed under the chin and knotted on the top of the head. When the handkerchief was drawn away it exposed what had been the throat. Some of the jurors who had risen to get a better view repented their curiosity, and turned away their faces.

Witness Harker went to the open window and leaned out across the sill, faint and sick. Dropping the handkerchief upon the dead man’s neck, the coroner stepped to an angle of the room, and from a pile of clothing produced one garment after another, each of which he held up a moment for inspection. All were torn, and stiff with blood. The jurors did not make a closer inspection. They seemed rather uninterested. They had, in truth, seen all this before; the only thing that was new to them being Harker’s testimony.

“Gentlemen,” the coroner said, “we have no more evidence, I think. Your duty has been already explained to you; if there is nothing you wish to ask you may go outside and consider your verdict.”

The foreman rose–a tall, bearded man of sixty, coarsely clad.

“I should like to ask one question, Mr. Coroner,” he said. “What asylum did this here last witness escape from?”

“Mr. Harker,” said the coroner, gravely and tranquilly, “from what asylum did you last escape?”

Harker flushed crimson again, but said nothing, and the seven jurors rose and solemnly filed out of the cabin.

“If you have done insulting me, sir,” said Harker, as soon as he and the officer were left alone with the dead man, “I suppose I am at liberty to go?”

“Yes.”

Harker started to leave, but paused, with his hand on the door latch. The habit of his profession was strong in him–stronger than his sense of personal dignity. He turned about and said:

“The book that you have there–I recognize it as Morgan’s diary. You seemed greatly interested in it; you read in it while I was testifying. May I see it? The public would like–”

“The book will cut no figure in this matter,” replied the official, slipping it into his coat pocket; “all the entries in it were made before the writer’s death.”

As Harker passed out of the house the jury reentered and stood about the table on which the now covered corpse showed under the sheet with sharp definition. The foreman seated himself near the candle, produced from his breast pocket a pencil and scrap of paper, and wrote rather laboriously the following verdict, which with various degrees of effort all signed:

“We, the jury, do find that the remains come to their death at the hands of a mountain lion, but some of us thinks, all the same, they had fits.”

 

-4-

AN EXPLANATION FROM THE TOMB

 

In the diary of the late Hugh Morgan are certain interesting entries having, possibly, a scientific value as suggestions. At the inquest upon his body the book was not put in evidence; possibly the coroner thought it not worthwhile to confuse the jury. The date of the first of the entries mentioned cannot be ascertained; the upper part of the leaf is torn away; the part of the entry remaining is as follows:

“… would run in a half circle, keeping his head turned always toward the centre and again he would stand still, barking furiously. At last he ran away into the brush as fast as he could go. I thought at first that he had gone mad, but on returning to the house found no other alteration in his manner than what was obviously due to fear of punishment.

“Can a dog see with his nose? Do odors impress some olfactory centre with images of the thing emitting them? . . .

“Sept 2.–Looking at the stars last night as they rose above the crest of the ridge east of the house, I observed them successively disappear–from left to right. Each was eclipsed but an instant, and only a few at the same time, but along the entire length of the ridge all that were within a degree or two of the crest were blotted out. It was as if something had passed along between me and them; but I could not see it, and the stars were not thick enough to define its outline. Ugh! I don’t like this. . . .”

Several weeks’ entries are missing, three leaves being torn from the book.

“Sept. 27.–It has been about here again–I find evidences of its presence every day. I watched again all of last night in the same cover, gun in hand, double-charged with buckshot. In the morning the fresh footprints were there, as before. Yet I would have sworn that I did not sleep–indeed, I hardly sleep at all. It is terrible, insupportable! If these amazing experiences are real I shall go mad; if they are fanciful I am mad already.

“Oct. 3.–I shall not go–it shall not drive me away. No, this is my house, my land. God hates a coward…

“Oct. 5.–I can stand it no longer; I have invited Harker to pass a few weeks with me–he has a level head. I can judge from his manner if he thinks me mad.

“Oct. 7.–I have the solution of the problem; it came to me last night–suddenly, as by revelation. How simple–how terribly simple!

 

“There are sounds that we can not hear. At either end of the scale are notes that stir no chord of that imperfect instrument, the human ear. They are too high or too grave. I have observed a flock of blackbirds occupying an entire treetop–the tops of several trees–and all in full song. Suddenly–in a moment–at absolutely the same instant—all spring into the air and fly away. How? They could not all see one another–whole treetops intervened. At no point could a leader have been visible to all. There must have been a signal of warning or command, high and shrill above the din, but by me unheard.

I have observed, too, the same simultaneous flight when all were silent, among not only blackbirds, but other birds–quail, for example, widely separated by bushes–even on opposite sides of a hill.

“It is known to seamen that a school of whales basking or sporting on the surface of the ocean, miles apart, with the convexity of the earth between them, will sometimes dive at the same instant–all gone out of sight in a moment. The signal has been sounded–too grave for the ear of the sailor at the masthead and his comrades on the deck—who nevertheless feel its vibrations in the ship as the stones of a cathedral are stirred by the bass of the organ.

“As with sounds, so with colors. At each end of the solar spectrum the chemist can detect the presence of what are known as ‘actinic’ rays. They represent colors–integral colors in the composition of light–which we are unable to discern. The human eye is an imperfect instrument; its range is but a few octaves of the real ‘chromatic scale’ I am not mad; there are colors that we cannot see.

“And, God help me! the Damned Thing is of such a color!”

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

Ambrose Bierce was born on June 24, 1842 in a log cabin at Horse Cave Creek in Meigs County, Ohio. He was the tenth of thirteen children. His father gave all the children names starting with the letter “A”. When the civil war began he signed up. He participated in many battles in West Virginia. Ar the first battle at Philippi, he distinguished himself for bravery. Bierce was present at the Battle of Rich Mountain where he rescued a badly injured comrade. Bierce fought at the Battle of Shiloh in April of that 1862/. He was seriously wounded in the head at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and was discharged in January 1865. He served in an expedition across the Great Plains to San Francisco where he was promoted to brevet major. His then turned to journalism and criticism and he worked for the Hearst Company for many years. He spent some time in England and his first book was published in London. He wrote many short stories, the most famous of being “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. Bierce disappeared in Mexico around the end of 1913, after joining Pancho Villa’s army as an observer. Bierce’s disappearance has also been a popular topic. Carlos Fuentes’s novel The Old Gringo is a fictionalized account of Bierce’s disappearance which was later adapted into the film Old Gringo (1989), starring Gregory Peck in the title role. The film was not received well critically, possibly because Jane Fonda, the lead actress, was unpopular for her stance on the Viet Nam War in the eyes of many, and became a box office failure.

A STORY COMPOSED COMPLETELY FROM BEATLES LYRICS

by Natasha DeSilva ©2014

 

Originally posted on Cup of Whimsy:

 Featured Image -- 306

Last night I said these words to my girl: “You’re driving me insane.”

She looked at me, taken by surprise. “If there’s something I have said or done, tell me what and I’ll apologize.”

Giving me the same old line. She’s got the devil in her heart.

I said, “You’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.” Should I fix myself a drink? I’ve hada drink or two. “I should have realized a lot of things before. You treat me badly. My independence seems to vanish… I have had enough.”

“I’ve just…Every now and then, I feel so insecure. Try to see it my way…”

Sigh. She’s old enough to know better. “Martha, my dear. I can’t help my feelings.”

She said, “You don’t understand what I said.”

“No, you’re wrong. I know that I’m ready to leave.”

“Honey…don’t.” She will turn to me and start to cry. “We can work it out.” My baby’s got me locked up in chains.

No reply. I nearly broke down and cried. And I’m the kind of guy who never used to cry.

“You’ll never leave me.” And in her eyes…no sign of love behind the tears. Cried for no one.

“I think I’ll take a walk.” I couldn’t stand the pain.

Summer night: The floating sky is shimmering. Bright are the stars; big and black the clouds. Tomorrow may rain .

I’ve been wandering around. Flowers of yellow and green, tangerine trees, strawberry fields. Blackbird singing in the dead of night. On the corner is a banker with a motorcar.

Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box, relax and float downstream.

I should be sleeping like a log. I may be asleep. But you know, I know when it’s a dream.

Now it’s time to say good night. I turn around.

Once there was a way to get back home.

“Mister city policeman, can you take me back where I came from?”

*   *   *

When I awoke, I was alone. This bird had flown, leaving the note that she hoped would say more. My life has changed.

I’ll remember all the little things we’ve done…but one thing I can tell you is you got to be free. Take these broken wings and learn to fly.

Fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head. Found my way downstairs and drank a cup.

“The sun is up. The sky is blue.” I just had to laugh. I need to laugh, and when the sun is out, I’ve got something I can laugh about. I feel the ice is slowly melting.

I took a ride. I’ll follow the sun. I didn’t know what I would find there.

Lovely Rita. Sitting in an English garden.

“Hello.”

“Hello, hello!” She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere.

She said she’d always been a dancer. She never stops; she’s a go-getter.

“I’m happy just to dance with you. Just let me hear some of that rock n roll music!”

She was a girl in a million. Just a smile would lighten everything.

My head is filled with things to say. And though it’s only a whim, I’ve got a feeling, a feeling deep inside: She will always be my friend.

Two of us riding nowhere. Not arriving…On our way back home. We’re on our way home.

 

 

 


 

Natasha

http://cupofwhimsy.natashadesilva.wordpress.com

Cup of Whimsy

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my story composed completely of Beatles lyrics? It took me a while to write, will you take a look? Haha…I’m a big Beatles fan, and I felt inspired by this fun yet daunting challenge. Being limited to certain words and phrases was a struggle, but at least the Beatles had a lot of songs to choose from. I am not sure how successful the story turned out, but I would love to hear your thoughts!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last night I said these words to my girl: “You’re driving me insane.”

She looked at me, taken by surprise. “If there’s something I have said or done, tell me what and I’ll apologize.”

Giving me the same old line. She’s got the devil in her heart.

I said, “You’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.” Should I fix myself a drink? I’ve had a…

View original post 549 more words

THE MYSTERY OF FOWLER’S HILL

THE MYSTERY OF FOWLER’S HILL

© 2014 Kenneth Harper Finton

 

 

HOUSETake a boy of ten, a pleasant, smudge-faced little boy with dangling arms and freckles spotted rampant on his nose. He is wearing a red and white striped polo shirt––cool enough to eat. Then take a lonely old house on a windswept hill that looks down upon the main street of a small Ohio town like a melancholy illustration from a picture book of horrors. Then add to this an old woman existing in her lonely life by threadbare strands of memory. Lump the scene together. Let is simmer with the passing of time, with clocks that run backwards and a love that ebbs away to pity.

Thirty years ago, I was that boy of ten standing in the mist at the foot of Fowler’s Hill. I was about to earn my first dollar delivering papers on Sunday mornings. My route started at the dispatch office where we picked up our stacks of stack of folded papers still smelling of fresh ink. My first customer was to be Old Lady Fowler who lived alone, always cloaked in the old weathered house that stood atop the town’s highest hill.

Fowler’s Hill had been Mount Milly’s chief landmark for as long as anyone could remember. Mount Milly’s founding father, Jacob Fowler, declared the hill his sanctuary, but when the early settlers nestled in at the foot of the hill, their tentacles reached for the slopes, Jacob Fowler fenced the entire hill with a six foot wall of stone, two feet wide. The only entrances were a large wrought iron gate on the east side and steps dropping down into Mount Milly on the west side.

halloween colorings (15)In the early days of Fowler’s Hill, the house blazed with lights and horse-drawn carriages labored up the narrow brick lane to the Fowler mansion. Every Saturday night music and the sounds of laughter could be heard floating from the open windows and down into the town. Pretty girls escorted by tall, sinewy young men sat on the white benches at the top of the hill looking down upon the lights of Mount Milly, entranced with the town’s haunting reflections.

When I was ten, the house was only a ghost of its memories. It stood windblown and weathered at the top of the hill. The house was the object of derision, as the people in Mount Milly laughed about how old man Fowler’s fortunes had turned after the 1928 crash. But the house itself stood unsmiling on the hilltop, staring down like some dark shade of gloom––unpainted, rotting, without expression. Scolding mothers threatened to take their wayward children to Old Lady Fowler for punishment. There, the prisoner of the hill, Old Lady Fowler, had shut herself into her hilltop estate, never to walk the streets again.

Thirty years ago, I stood at the bottom of the hill, my body braced against the weight of my paper bag, trying to muster up the courage to climb those time-eaten steps and carefully place the Sunday paper on the porch.

I tried not to look at the house as I climbed the steps. One glimpse and I could be hypnotized by the unblinking, long windows that stared at me and seemed to whisper: “Come up, my boy. Come to Fowler’s Hill.” As I climbed the steps, the house whispered in my ears and the air around me carried hushed strains of maniacal laughter. My spine was rigid, my knees unbending. I threw the paper on the porch and started running down the steps three at a time until I was safe at last on the streets of Mount Milly and the whispers of the house were drowned in the sounds of my panting breath.

Every Sunday morning I had to deliver the paper. As I became accustomed to climbing the steps and returning without being minced and placed as a seasoning in a blueberry pie. I gradually lost my fear of Fowler’s Hill.

For six months I delivered the papers to the old porch. Before I knew it, snow was blowing and sifting through closed shutters and white flakes were freezing to my eye lashes. The week before Christmas, I climbed the steps once again to place the paper on the porch. The sky was gray and the streets at the foot of the hill were drifted closed. Automobiles had stopped everywhere and had been abandoned where they stalled.

I dropped the paper in the snow and turned to leave hen behind me I heard the creaking of a door and whipped around with my fists clenched. A woman in her early thirties stood in the doorway holding an old sweater closed at her throat with her hand as the wind whipped her hair.

“Boy,” she said, “would you like to warm up?”

“No thank you,” I replied.

“What’s your name, boy?”

“Hugh Christie.”

“I have a Christmas treat for you,” she said. “Come in here and warm yourself before you catch your death.”

I stepped inside and the door closed behind me, sealing me in. The house was dark and needed airing. The room was large and dusty, but I remember thinking that it must have been a beautiful home long ago.

The woman looked down on me restlessly and I felt as though I ware caught in a web. “Isn’t Mrs. Fowler here?” I asked. “I didn’t know anyone else lived here.”

The woman didn’t answer. She stood there smiling liquidly and devouring with her eyes. The clock on the mantel read seven-thirty. Really, I have to go,” I said. “I have to deliver the rest of my papers.”

“Wait, please. I’ll get you a cup of chocolate and your present. You’ll feel better with a little fortification against the cold.”

She walked toward the hallway and turned again toward me. “Please, don’t go away. I’ll be right back.”

I sat oh a chair and counted the minutes as they passed by. The mantel clock read seven-fifteen. But it had been seven-thirty when I looked at it before. I rubbed my eyes and looked again––still seven-fifteen.

The woman returned with a present and two steaming cups of hot chocolate on a tray. The present was bulky and wrapped in yellowed newspaper, probably one that I had delivered to her door.  “I’m sorry I had no proper wrapping,” the woman smiled, “but a gift is a gift no matter what it comes in. Here, open it.”

ukeleleI tore the paper off and a little instrument was laid bare before me. It looked like a used little wooden guitar. The veneer along the fretboard was worn away. I was very disappointed.

“Thank you,” I said. “It’s very fine. What is it?”

The woman laughed. “It’s a ukulele, a musical instrument from Hawaii. Do you play any instruments, Hugh?”

My negative answer was not altogether truthful. At the time, my parents were forcing me to take piano lessons from Professor Gray each Saturday morning.

“I’ll show you how to play it,” she said. “Here, drink your chocolate.”

She sat down on the floor beside me, took the instrument into her hands and began to play. As she played, she sang in a sweet melodic voice: “Drink to me only with thine eyes and I will pledge with mine.” She sang softly, her fingers strumming across the strings.

Suddenly, she jumped up. “I can’t keep you any longer,” she said. “Your other customers will be complaining. It’s nearly seven o’clock.”

But it should be eight o’clock!  I looked at the mantle clock again. “It’s five ‘til seven,” I said, “but t was nearly seven-thirty when I cam in here.”

The woman looked at me with her twinkling eyes. “Can you keep a secret? A wonderful, wonderful secret?”

“Of course,” I said.

“In here,” she said, “time runs backwards.”

clock1_2I became frightened. Perhaps Old Lady Fowler had cast a spell on me. I didn’t really believe in spells, but I felt a strange and sickening feeling inside, as though my soul had a toothache.She bent her head to kiss me and I scooted from the chair with the uke in my hands and flew down the steps as fast as my feet would carry me. The snow was blowing and behind me the house was laughing again. My foot slipped on the ice. I braced my body, but the movement threw me down on the steps, rolling me over and over again against the jabbing rocks until at last I was still and faint. The last thing I remember was someone’s feet standing beside me, caked with heavy snow, and after that came blackness.

My career as a paperboy stopped then and there. I lay in bed with a plaster cast on my leg, my arm in a sling and bandage trapped around my head. While I was recuperating from my fall, another boy got the job.

As the years went by, I stopped thinking about my visit to the Fowler place and passed the unrealities off as childhood fancies. Time and life went on and I was caught up in the process of growing up. My voice deepened and I began to look at the girls.

High school came and went and after that one year of college. There was a war in Europe and the Far East. During my first semester of college, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and I heeded the call of my country.

I didn’t get back home until December of 1945. My brother Jerry was shipped home one week later and buried with honor in Mount Milly Cemetery. I took a summer job in a small factory that made buttons of all shapes and sizes.

At that time, Fowler’s Hill was the farthest thing from my mind. I wanted to finish my education and then move to the city where my life could take on an entirely different meaning. I lived at home with my parents, grieved the loss of my brother with them, then waited patiently for the school year to start.

What was it that took me to the attic that evening? Was I looking for something––the croquette set? an old jacket? a sponge for washing the car? It makes no difference. It was nearly fifteen years ago.

This I do remember. The attic stairs creaked under my weight. I remember how, when I was young, the attic used to terrify me. Every shadow was a ghoul, some fiendish intruder waiting to attack and sink blood-red fangs into the back of my neck.

The attic smelled dusty. Unshaded lights hung from bare wires. They cast harsh shadows on the dusty debris of useless things. I opened an old trunk at random and sifted through the piles of mothballed clothing and tattered pennants. I looked at my old school papers that dated back to kindergarten. I had done well in the early school years and I enjoyed looking at the large red A’s that were scrawled across the top of the pages. I hadn’t done so well in high school and college was a bit worse.

My searching hands came upon the ukulele. The sound box was split open and the broken strings were hanging uselessly against the frets. I hadn’t seen it since the day 1 fell down the steps to the foot of Fowler’s Hill. It must have been broken have in the fall.

I lifted the split weed of the sound box, attempted to fit it together, and found some old letters on the inside––letters cracked and yellowed with age, the paper stained brown in spots and punched with small holes where some invading insect had raped the sanctity of their content. I pulled the letters through the split in the wood and looked at the handwriting––the clear strokes of an old steel pen. It was the handwriting of another time and era.  My eyes focused in the dim starkness of the light as I looked at the signature. It was from a girl named Elizabeth Merrill and was dated December 21, 1870:

“I cannot express my gratitude for your compliance with my request better than with an immediate reply, and for this purpose, retired at an early hour. I am now sitting in my room by a cheerful and while thus engaged forget the old lettersdistance that separates us. I now duly praise the privilege of writing and I am quite content in solitude when occasionally remembered with a letter from absent friends. We have commenced a correspondence, Polly, that I hope will not to be interrupted. In order to fully enjoy such intercourse, there should be a mutual understanding, which I think it not wanting. I am fickle––somewhat disposed to the dark side. During such times I will tell you that naught awaits us but toil and care and trouble; that happiness is only apparent, not real, that our fond hopes will terminate in disappointment. In my next letter, I may be in good spirits––expatiate upon the mingled sweets of life. This fickleness may in part arise from an indulging fancy to roam too much, to build castles in the air, and form bright schemes which can never be realized. My time almost exclusively occupied with domestic affairs and my mind is necessarily diverted into a different channel which will, perhaps, correct the evil spoken of. And here I will confess that I am quite vain of my skill in the art of baking bread and some other branches of housework to which I have never attended until recently, though they are all important. My too indulgent mother, considering only the ease of her child, neglected some parts very essential to the education of females, however it is not yet too late to learn. But enough of myself. The clock warns me of the hour to retire, though I would willingly forego my usual nest and spend the night conversing with you.

“I find that I am hardly intelligible and have made so many mistakes of every kind, but I am confident that you will not read with a critic’s eye. I hope to see you soon––may possibly come up next Sunday to attend your play-party. Do write soon and tell me about the folks. Give my love to June. I do wish she’d write, even if she will not come to see me. Tell Grace I would fill my next page to her, but really have not the time. Give my respects to your father and mother and remember me to all who deign to inquire after.”

The letter ended. It was signed, “Your affectionate friend, Elizabeth Merrill.”

My eyes jumped over the letter. I could picture the girl sitting by the fire––young, pretty, witty, with eyes that sparkled and a smile that gleamed when she laughed. It was written in 1870. The girl would be dead by now, or perhaps just ancient and withered away. All that remained of the girl was the letters that I held in my hand.

I began reading the second letter: “Dear Polly, I cannot tell much how I rejoiced when I read your kind letter. I sometimes thought you had partially forgotten me, but at the same time, I blamed myself for not writing more often. But I assure you, it was nothing but a spirit of procrastination that hindered me. O this spirit of procrastination. What shall we do with it? We must certainly take up our crop, walk the narrow path of self-denial, and quit the work of putting off until tomorrow what can be done today, or I fear it will very much hinder our usefulness in this world. But I am beginning to think that we have had enough of forgetting each other. Let us have no more of it––for why should we be so jealous as to think that we can bury our friendship or the recollections of past pleasures in the dusky shades of oblivion. I think that if friendships can prove lasting in this life, ours should. It was first formed in the schoolroom and since has increased and strengthened in various ways. And I hope that while we are traveling through this dreary clime, we will be a benefit to each other in preparing for something better. Yes, for if I never see your face again, I feel that I can receive benefit from your letters. And, dear Polly, do write often and give me instruction and direction in everything down to anthography and etymology. Yes, do not hesitate for a moment to tell me of my faults and let us both try to have our attention directed to something useful, that we might fulfill the purposes for which we were created, that we may live to the glory of God and the good of mankind. And when we come to bid this world adieu, will it not be sweet then retrospecting our lives? Human life is at best a chequered scene; sorrows and joys follow each other in quick succession. Man comes upon the stage of action and is hurried on with the velocity of time to try the realities of another world.

“And, my dear Polly, while we sojourn in this world of uncertainty (if you allow me the expression) let us not disturb our minds with vain hopes and fears, but depend securely upon Fate to deal with us the way he thinks best. Let us do our duty and we can be sure that all things will work out for the greater good. If we could do that, even pain itself would be sweet, and disappointments pleasures of Fate. We are both in the flowery paths of youth and neither of us have been called upon to suffer much affliction of any kind, but we know what may befall us; therefore, let us come boldly to the throne of grace to help us in time of need.

“We have had quite a revival of religion six miles from where we live (as you no doubt notice from the tone of this letter). I expect we will have a good time at the camp meeting commencing the sixth day of September. Can you not come and go to the meeting with us? I was very much disappointed when I learned that you had been as far as Grayling without coming to Huntington to see me. You were mistaken when you supposed that Doctor Brown was a beau of mine, for I assure you that the good doctor talks as much of Miss Polly as he does of Miss Elizabeth. I have not seen him lately, but will venture to give his respects to you––for I know if he were here he would send them. I am glad to hear that you stand superior to the passions of love, for I anticipate much pleasure in future correspondence with you, and if were to get in the vortex of (what shall I call it?) I fear my pleasures would be at an end.

“But I must bid you good night. Write soon––I would like to receive a letter from you every month. And now, farewell. May the Lord bless us both. Your affectionate friend, Elizabeth Merrill.”

I smiled inwardly and folded the letters. I thought about a movie I had seen the night before, a tale of simpler days just before the Civil War when romance bloomed slowly and a simply kiss was almost a proposal. Sometimes I would long to be back in those days, but I know that had I lived then I would see things in different light. But still, the longing is there. It is easy to fall in love with the past, but much harder and much more practical to fall in love with the present.

Why were those letters lying all these years in the soundbox of my ukulele? I lifted the wood and peered in once again. Flattened on the bottom was yet another note announcing the engagement of Elizabeth Merrill to Jacob Fowler of Mount Milly.

My heart skipped a beat, for now it all made sense. The letters had been written by Old Lady Fowler. I thought of Fowler Place and my strange visit fourteen years before. All the unanswered questions of my childhood suddenly came down upon me. Who was the woman who gave me the ukulele? Why had no one seen Old Lady Fowler since her husband died in 1908. Is the old lady still living in that morbid mausoleum at the top of the hill?

I decided to take the letters to the house to find out. I didn’t know that I would regret that decision for the rest of my life.

I stopped my car at the foot of Fowler’s Hill and watched the final glow of the sun fall away into the west. The Fowler Place stood high above me in windswept desolation. If there was ever a light in the house, it always burned low, for the house was black against the very darkness and the moon shining behind it exaggerated the strangest of feeling––half terror and half wonder.  I felt for the letters in my pocket. Try as I would, I could not reconcile the girl of the letters with Old Lady Fowler.

HOUSE LATER1 began the climb up the great stairway that led up the rock-plagued slope, pausing every few seconds as something bristled inside me and remembering the fall down these very steps when 1 was ten.

I stepped onto the porch. The floorboards creaked underfoot and a chill ran through my spine like a slow incision of cold. I began to wish that I hadn’t come, but I was there and there was nothing to do but go through with it. I rapped gently on the door, vaguely hoping that no one would hear.

I could hear the sounds of a Victrola coming from inside the house––soft, tinny sounds that registered in my ears like queer and ancient music. I could see a faint light burning deep within the house.

The curtains parted at the left window, then closed and swayed back and forth until they stilled. I pounded on the door until the flesh of my fist became sore, but still she didn’t come. I was afraid that she might come and I would see … what? A dusty pile of wrinkles and stale clothing? a cancerous face? a mass of oozing flesh that would undulate through the door and cover me over with death?

1 pounded hard on the door.’’ Mrs. Fowler,” I called. “It’s Hugh Christie. I have something for you. A delivery.” I was yelling and my voice was high-pitched and shaky.

1 waited for a while, but could hear nothing but the birds of the night and the sounds from the street below. I looked out over the town––my town––and it seemed very beautiful here on this hill.

Suddenly I heard the lock snap and the door opened just a crack. Someone … something … whispered: “Little Hugh Christie, the newsboy?”

“Not little,” I said, not oven knowing to whom I was speaking. I’m twenty-four now.”

There was no reply.”1 have something for you, Mrs, Fowler.”

I took the letters from my pocket and unfolded them. They crackled in the night. “You wrote those a long time ago.”

The door opened and jay mouth dropped open in surprise. I blinked my eyes and looked again … at the pretty girl in a yellow dress whose eyes sparkled like little flecks of gold in a sea of tawny hair.

“Hugh,” she smiled, “won’t you come in?”

I followed her into the living room and although fourteen years had passed since my Christmas visit, the room seemed as familiar as the freckles on the back of my hand. The sofa still sat upon the faded rug and the clock on the mantle still ticked away, each second younger than the one before it. Inside the house there was a calm, the like of which I had never experienced before. Suddenly I was cut away from the past and my mind went blank to the future. Neither time nor reason mattered. Life stood still and there was only a time called now.

“You are Elizabeth?” I asked.

“Yes, very much so,” she smiled. “Oh, what have we here?”  She bounded youthfully to my side, her eyes glancing down at the letters in my hand.

“I found these letters in the sound box of my ukulele,” I said. My voice sounded strange, as though it had come from someone else. My mouth moved, but I felt as though 1 had no control over my speech.

GIRL WITH PARASOL“The ukelele,” she said. “How strange. I had almost forgotten about that. Shall we go where the lighting is better, or shall we stand here in a dimly lit corner? No, don’t answer that. Let’s go into the library.”

She sat on a divan beside the plush leather-covered volumes of  Dickens’ works and glanced at the letters while I stood with dangling arms and rubber legs. “Where arc my manners?” she laughed, looking up. “Please, have a seat.”

Thinking back, I wonder why I didn’t question the unreasonable atmosphere and the mysterious clash of time, but I sat there thinking only of the present, taking everything as it was without question. It seemed the perfectly natural thing to do.

She read through the letters silently, lipping the words sensuously with flicks of the tongue, smiling now and then as out of nowhere long-shattered and forgotten dreams appeared again. I watched the heave and fall of her bosom, the merry sparkle of her eyes, the crisp, wet brightness of her smile.

She let the letters fall into her lap and her eyes turned sad. “This girl was young, so young. Eighteen at the time, just as I am now, and yet we are two entirely different girls, two separate beings with the same body. Isn’t it strange?” With a flicking gesture of her arm, she paused. “The girl who wrote the letters was so full of life, so hopeful, bubbling with happiness at times,”

“And what about the girl of today?” I asked.

She smiled again. “You wouldn’t want to hear about the girl of today. She is a lonely girl who has lived too long and yet not long enough. It’s a shame, really. The girl who wrote these letters never really got to know what she wanted most to know.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked.

She laughed lightly like a bell. I will always remember the tinkling sounds of her laughter. “Once I was old, but now I am young. But, please, let’s not talk about it. We have so little time.”

So little time. But why? I wanted everything just as it was to the end of eternity. I wanted to sit forever on the leather-covered couch, young to the end of time in that strange old house atop Fowler’a Hill. I was entranced with her haunting, mournful beauty.

images-2She got up from the couch. “Thank you for bringing the letters, Hugh, but you must not stay but only a few stolen moments at a time. You must not fall into the pattern.”

“What pattern? The pattern of staying young? I would like to stay young until the end of time.”

“No,” she said. “It doesn’t work that way. Please, come quickly.”

I grabbed her arm at the door. “Elizabeth, does it have to end like this? Just a visit in the night and then nothing?”

“In this house there are no endings,” she said, “only beginnings. I only wish it had an ending, for beginnings can be so terrible.”

“The handsome prince always rescues the lovely princess from the Black Knight’s hilltop castle and they both live happily ever after.”

“A fairy tale,” she smiled. “Please, Hugh, you must go. The sun is setting.”

I turned to catch a glimpse of a sunset that I had already seen.

“Please, Hugh, you must go,” she said.

She placed her hands on my shoulders and I stroked the tawny softness of her hair. “I’ll be back,” 1 said. She smiled and lifted her head. A final, lingering kiss aid it was over. She stepped inside the house and left me staring into the bleak wooden patterns of the tightly closed door.

Safe at home the reality hit me in the face with a thousand unanswered questions. I wanted to check birth and death records. I wanted to be armed with indisputable facts that would explain the mystery of Fowler’s Hill. I drove into Huntington and looked through the courthouse records and found that Elisabeth Fowler, née Merrill, was born August 1, 1852.

Her words ran through my mind.  “We have so little time … once I was old but now I am young.”  I drove back to Mount Milly and found the marriage records of Elisabeth Merrill and Jacob Fowler, September 15, 1871. Jacob Fowler’s death certificate read July 15, 1908. The marriage had produced no children.

I remembered that Christmas when 1 was ten and Elisabeth, then in her thirties, playing the ukulele. I remembered her words … “Can you keep a wonderful, wonderful secret? Time runs backwards here.”

Sometimes a man cannot understand what he knows to be true. The astronomer cannot comprehend the infinity that he surveys, the minister cannot explain the God of whom he preaches. I was armed with records, statements, and certificates that proved beyond a doubt that Elizabeth should be ninety-four. Time runs backwards here was my unreasonable, but only conclusion.

I sat down with pad and paper to explain the unexplainable. Elizabeth had been old. At some point in her life, time had turned around. She was born in 1852. She was now eighteen in 1956. In 1908, the year her husband died, at the age of fifty-six, Elizabeth began to grow younger,

I could not picture Elizabeth as a fully matured woman. I saw only the girl who haunted my dreams, a girl with laughing lips and tawny hair from out of the past and into the future … a princess in a hilltop tomb waiting for her knight in to rescue her. As quickly as the old century fades into the new, I had fallen impulsively, irrationally in love.

Mount Milly is a little town, but large enough to boast or complain (whichever was the prevailing mood) of one pawn shop on Beech Street. There I found a ukulele much like the one Elizabeth had given me. I had it wrapped and took it to Fowler’s Hill.

An unseasonable cold spell had settled over Mount Milly during the night. The drizzling drops of rain spotted my package as I walked up the steps. I crossed the creaking porch where only the night before I had kissed a fantasy of beauty and watched two sunsets fade into darkness.

“Elizabeth,” 1 said, pounding on the door, “open up. I’ve got a surprise for you.” No one answered. I tried to

I waited but there was no answer. I tried to open the door, but it was locked. “Hey, you with the strawberry lips, open up. I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Still, no one answered. She didn’t want me. I laid the package by the door and went home. The next day it was gone.

GATE ABD HOUSEI returned to Fowler’s Hill many times after that, but the door was always locked and my pounding went unheeded. September arrived and I went back to college. During Thanksgiving vacation I talked with Mr. Snider at Snider’s General Store who delivered the food and other necessities to the house. He said that he still received a weekly cheek and the groceries were always gone when he stacked the weekly supply on the back porch. There seemed only one conclusion. I was not wanted on Fowler’s Hill.

Again the years rolled by, faster than I’d like to think, and gradually I erased Elizabeth Merrill from my mind. I finished college and went to work for the Mount Milly Gazette, the little paper where I now hold an editorial position. I married Jan Paxton, a girl from Cincinnati. We now live in the newer section of Mount Milly and our contacts with Mount Milly’s older side are rare. I work downtown and pass Fowler’s Hill every day of the week, but I stopped glancing up at the house years ago … until two weeks ago, on Sunday, when Jan was making pizza pie and needed some anchovies and Parmesan cheese. I shopped around at all the little stores that were open Sundays and found the cheese, but no one stocked anchovies. I cursed the blue laws, then thought about Mr. Snider’s store across town.

I hadn’t seen Mr, Snider in fifteen years and was surprised to find him looking so old and tired. “Well, Mr. Snider,” I said. “you’re looking great. You haven’t aged a bit.”

“Hello, Hugh,” he replied. “It’s been a long time.”

“It is a small town, Mr. Snider. It’s a wonder that we don’t run into one another more often.”

“Well, I don’t go out much anymore, Hugh. I had a heart attack three years ago this month and it left me out of sorts.”

Now that he mentioned it, 1 could see that half of his mouth was drawn up. “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “Times gets us all. Just look at me.” I pulled my hat off to allow him to see my receding hair line.

Mr. Snider laughed. “Hell, that’s the limit. And you had the thickest head of hair I’ve ever seen.”

“Say, Mr. Snider, I need some anchovies. Jan’s making a pizza. Do you stock them?”

“Anchovy paste.”

“It’s not the same, is it?”

“No, but I think it would do.”

“Hell, I’ll try the paste then.”

“Right back there. Center aisle.”

I took the anchovy paste from the shelf and laid it on the counter. “Will that be all then, Hugh?”

I guess that’s about it, really. I already have the cheese.”

“Say, Hugh, I’ve got something for you here someplace. Up until a few months ago I was delivering up to Old Lady Fowler, then I got a note saying not to leave my stuff anymore. The old lady must have changed stores.

My heartbeat quickened at the mention of her name.  He continued: “You know the old lady must be near a hundred and ten by now. Ita a real wonder that she’s still around. A real wonder. Here tell she’s got a nurse, though.”

I chuckled. The old lady has a nurse. It was only a rumor that I started myself when Mount Milly’s conscientious (snoopy) citizens decided that Elizabeth was getting too old to care for herself and wanted to bring her down from her hilltop and place her in the Old Folk’s Home.

“Well, anyway,” Mr. Snider said, “I was delivering up there one week and went up to the back porch like always and found an envelope had dropped down in a crack in the floorboards. Funny thing was that it had your name on it.”

“Could I see it, please?” My stomach tightened.

“Sure, I think I’ve got it around here some place. Let me see now …” He bent under the counter and shuffled some boxes and soon came up with a dirty white and crumpled envelope. “Looks like the old lady mighta wrote it,” he said. “The writing’s awful shaky and cramped.”

I tore the letter open: “Dearest Hugh, Can you ever find the room in your heart to forgive me, but I could not let you fall into the living death that this house brings upon me. You see, as time passes, I grow younger and now I can hardly hold this pen in hand. My mind is strong and alert, but I can scarcely care for myself. I now have the body of a four-year-old …”

YOUNG GIRL I crashed ay fist onto the counter. How ridiculously stupid of me to think of her as living in perpetual youth. She would grow younger until she finally returned to the fetus or died of not being able to care for herself. What a horrible burden she must have had while waiting for disintegration back into the womb.

I ran out of the store, but I don’t remember running. I thought I heard Mr. Snider behind me saying something, but I ran down the street to the house on Fowler’s Hill, the letter still crumpled in my hand.

I hammered on the locked door.  “Elizabeth, open up. Elizabeth, please, Elizabeth, in the name of God, let me in.” There was no answer. I backed off and hurled myself against the door, but bounced back like a rubber ball. I stood rubbing my aching shoulder, my head spinning from the impact. I tore a board loose from the porch, smashed a window, and with a flourishing twist of my feet, hurled myself into the house.

The room stunk of must. Dust cluttered the furniture. The clock on the mantle, unwound, had stopped at half past five. I ran from room to room calling out her name, but the only answer was the mournful echo of my voice bouncing back and reverberating from room to room. “Elizabeth, answer me,” I screamed.

BONESI ran into the library and stopped short. At my feet lay a pile of tattered clothing and the white bones of a child with dusty strands of tawny hair. I drew back from the bundle and collapsed on the floor, tears streaming down my cheeks, curses flowing from my lips. I jumped, to my feet and ran around the house like an avenging demon, kicking at the furniture, tearing paper and drapes from the walls. I kicked open a closet door and found a gallon jug filled with fuel oil and hurled, it with all my might against the wall. The glass jug splattered and the dank, fetid fumes filled the air.

I pulled a pack of matches from my pocket and struck the entire book. I held it while the flames’ flickered against my fingers until I was certain it would not go out, then threw it at the broken jug. The flames spread slowly and I watched while they licked up the walls and ground the furniture.

I ran into the living room. The ukulele that I had given her was standing upright in a chair. I tucked it under my arm and ran out of the house down the back way, cursing, spitting on the ground.

My hand began to throb where the matches had flared against the skin, I stood at the bottom of the hill with my imageshead against the high stone wall. The house was not yet in flames. I returned to Snider’s General Store and drove back to the hill in my car. By now the flames were seeping out the windows and a crowd of on lookers had gathered at the foot of the hill. The more daring began to climb towards the burning mansion.

I watched the fire engines arrive and the house belch flames. The roof collapsed and the heavy stream of water from the fire hose turned to useless steam that rose above the house and fell on the spectators.

The house was still burning when 1 drove home. By morning the house and all its horror would be ashes upon the earth.

I stepped into my home wiping my stain cheeks with a handkerchief, the ukulele under my arm.

“Did you get the stuff for the pizza?” Jan asked.

“No,” I said. “I forgot.”’

“Oh, Hugh. You’d forget anything. What’s the uke for?”

“To keep me from forgetting,” I said.

Jan looked at me blankly and walked back out to the kitchen.

THE PRICE OF ADMISSION by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A LETTER FROM F. SCOTT FITZGERALD:

6184299387_262482da77_o

Left: Image of Zelda published in Metropolitan Magazine in June 1922, accompanying her piece “Eulogy of a Flapper”. Right: A study of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Gordon Bryant, published in Shadowland magazine in 1921. – See more at: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/09/26/a-few-words-about-f-scott-fitzgerald/#sthash.BvnI9yhu.dpuf

 

(Source: F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters; Image: F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

 

In 1938 the world was preparing for World War II. Fitzgerald lived in Culver City, California and was about to lose his very lucrative $1,250 per week contract with MGM as a screenwriter for the movies. On the 9th of November, 1938, a young woman named Frances Trumbell, sent the famous writer a story for review. That same night Germany looted and burned 7,500 Jewish businesses on “the night of broken class.” The young woman, a sophomore at Radcliffe University, wanted feedback from Fitzgerald. Fitsgerald was not impressed, though he said her writing was “smooth and agreeable and some of the pages are very apt and charming.”

History does not record how the young woman reacted to his letter. We can only imagine that she abandoned further attempt to become a writer when he said, “it doesn’t seem worthwhile to analyze why this story isn’t salable.”

 

 

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.